In a letter, State Auditor Troy Kelley, who recently fired senior staffers, accused Gov. Jay Inslee of “political grandstanding” and “campaigning with taxpayer resources” for publicly asking Kelley to explain the dismissals.
OLYMPIA — Embattled State Auditor Troy Kelley lashed out at Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday for questioning Kelley’s firing of several senior auditor staffand suggested the governor worry about management problems at state agencies under his direction.
Kelley returned to work late last month after his federal trial on theft and money-laundering charges concluded. Jurors acquitted him of making a false statement and couldn’t agree on 14 other federal charges including theft, money laundering and tax evasion in connection with a real-estate records business Kelley owned before his election in 2012 as state auditor.
Shortly after his return, Kelley demanded the resignations of his chief of staff and a spokesman, and put a former spokesman on leave until his upcoming scheduled retirement. The firings prompted Inslee to ask for an explanation in writing.
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In his letter, Kelley, a Democrat, cited audits from his office to suggest that Inslee look for “opportunities for improvement” at other state agencies.
“I hope you have a deeper concern for the various serious management issues facing your Cabinet agencies right now,” Kelley wrote. “I encourage you to look at the findings and recommendations of our latest audit which highlights your administration’s shortcomings in the WSDOT tolling system and suggests opportunities for improvement.”
Kelley compared his firing of staffers to Attorney General Bob Fergusonaccepting the resignation in February of Assistant Attorney General Ronda Larson, who played a role in the state’s yearslong mistaken early release of prisoners.
“Curiously and inconsistently, you did not send Mr. Ferguson a letter questioning his actions,” Kelley wrote.
Kelley suggested that Larson’s resignation “was an attempt to make her a scapegoat in order to politically protect your administration and the reputation of Bob Ferguson who is widely acknowledged to be running for governor in 2020.”
Ferguson’s office didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment.
In explaining why he fired staff members, Kelley wrote that that he was “irreparably losing confidence” in the office’s “executive messaging team.”
In an email, Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith described the letter as “a bizarre response that only deepens our concerns.”
Inslee, a Democrat who is running for election this year to a second term, is one of many state elected officials who have called on Kelley to resign. Ferguson, state Treasurer Jim McIntire, Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark, Secretary of State Kim Wyman and leaders in the state Legislature also have called for Kelley to step down.
The governor wasn’t the only elected official to question Kelley’s decision the week he fired the staffers. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville, Adams County, described those fired as “well-respected employees” and urged Kelley to quit.
“Perhaps more than any other political office in this state, the position of auditor is dependent on public trust,” Schoesler said in a statement at the time. “Kelley has lost that trust.”
While Kelley took a seven-month absence from office to fight the charges against him, lawmakers in Olympia began to agitate for impeachment proceedings — which prompted Kelley’s surprise return last December.
Kelley had faced up to 20 years in prison on charges from a federal grand jury alleging he stole upward of $3 million from homebuyers during the pre-recession real-estate boom by failing to make refunds to clients of his now-shuttered real-estate reconveyance company, Post Closing Department.
In his letter, Kelley also requested that Inslee’s general counsel, Nick Brown, not contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which undertook the prosecution against the auditor. Brown, who formerly worked for the office, “formed a close long-standing personal friendship with the lead prosecutor” handling the auditor’s case, Kelley wrote.
Brown said Wednesday evening that he had discussed the case once with the U.S. Attorney’s Office — while the jury was deliberating — to ask about a possible sentencing date. Brown added that he is not a personal friend of the lead prosecutor.
“Mr. Kelley is clearly a little bit unhinged,” Brown said.