A legacy liquidated: Kelley’s presence purged from Olympia

It took 207 days of campaigning through two elections in 2012 for Troy Xavier Kelley to secure the job as Washington’s state auditor.

It required only a few minutes Monday to erase nearly every scratch of evidence he is still in office.

At 1 p.m. that day, the Tacoma Democrat began an unpaid leave to fight the batch of federal criminal charges on which he was indicted last month.

Moments later, Kelley’s government email account was disabled and his mug shot and biography disappeared from the agency website. His name no longer adorns the twice-a-week emails distributing the latest crop of local government audits.

As his digital footprints got deleted, Kelley’s least-visible employee was scrubbed away, too, with the firing of a part-time staffer living out of state who is a personal friend, political supporter and professional confidante of Kelley’s.

Jan Jutte, the respected veteran bureaucrat entrusted with the keys and codes to the operation in Kelley’s absence, ordered the expunging that has effectively erased her boss from the political landscape.

She so thoroughly purged his presence that it’s made him seem like the answer to a “Jeopardy!” answer: “He is the only indicted elected official in Washington to ever abandon but not resign a post.”

Even though he’s gone, Kelley might still get a raise and retain his spot in the line of succession for governor. The Washington Citizens Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials wants to give the state auditor a 4 percent pay hike over the next two years.

At least commissioners did in January, when they approved a recommendation to boost Kelley’s annual salary from $116,950 to $121,628 on Sept. 1 and to $124,061 the following September.

They acted before Kelley’s indictment on federal charges, which include tax evasion and lying to investigators, and before his denial of wrongdoing and departure on an indefinite leave of absence.

Commissioners will have those facts in front of them when they sit down to take final action on the pay hike May 13 in Olympia.

Meanwhile, Kelley’s status as the legally elected state auditor might preserve his spot as the fourth in line to serve as governor.

Article 1, Section 10 of the state Constitution lays out who’s in charge if Gov. Jay Inslee is unable to do the job. Lt. Gov. Brad Owen is first up. If he can’t do it, the reins go to Secretary of State Kim Wyman, then Treasurer Jim McIntire and then the auditor, Kelley.

There’s never been a serious enough disruption of leadership to put the auditor in charge. It wasn’t clear this week what would happen if it did occur with Kelley in office but on leave. (It’s a question the attorney general hasn’t been formally asked to consider.)

Since everyone ahead of Kelley in the order of succession wants him to immediately resign, they will no doubt be sure to not be out of state all at the same time to avoid any chance Kelley could be called to serve as governor — even for a few minutes.

As he learned this week, it doesn’t take long to liquidate a legacy.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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