OLYMPIA — Embattled state Auditor Troy Kelley, who was indicted by a federal grand jury on tax evasion and other charges earlier this month, said Tuesday he will start his leave of absence next week and will not accept pay or benefits, something Gov. Jay Inslee had already insisted on.
Kelley said in a statement that he also is turning over several responsibilities to the agency’s director of operations, Jan Jutte, including audit authority, contracting and personnel issues.
Kelley, who has resisted calls for his resignation, had initially said he would start a temporary leave of absence on Friday. However, in his statement, he said his leave will now start at 1 p.m. Monday.
He said that during his leave, he won’t represent the agency “in any capacity until I can put my legal matters to rest, at which time I intend to resume my duties.”
“I believe it is important for everyone to remember that under our system, everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, in front of a jury of one’s peers,” he wrote. “I also believe it is important to note that none of the allegations leveled against me call into question my work as an elected official.”
Earlier in the day, Inslee spokesman David Postman said that a letter was hand-delivered to Kelley on Monday, informing him he wouldn’t be paid during his leave. Kelley’s current salary is $116,950 a year. That letter also demanded that Kelley let the governor know in writing how the auditor’s office will be run in his absence.
In that letter, Inslee also repeated his call for Kelley to resign.
“You have lost the trust of the public and the agencies that your office oversees,” Inslee wrote. “I urge you to put the interest of the people of the state of Washington above your own.”
In the letter, Inslee noted that he has directed the Department of Enterprise Services and Office of Financial Management to withhold Kelley’s compensation “as long as you are not preforming the duties of the office you were elected to perform.”
Earlier this month, Kelley was indicted by a federal grand jury and pleaded not guilty to 10 felony counts. The indictment charged him with filing false tax returns, attempting to obstruct a lawsuit and possessing more than $1 million in stolen property related to his former business.
The most serious charge carries a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison. A felony conviction would automatically force Kelley from office, and some lawmakers have spoken about the possibility of impeaching him in light of the charges alone. A petition to recall Kelley from office has also been filed with the secretary of state.
Postman said that Kelley called the governor a few hours before his announcement, but said that the conversation was different than what the auditor wrote in his statement.
Postman wouldn’t release the details of the conversation other than to say what Kelley ultimately wrote was “a better outcome.”
In response to Kelley’s planned leave, two lawmakers have introduced a bill for the upcoming special legislative session that would allow the governor to appoint a replacement when an elected official takes a leave.
Current law only allows the governor to appoint a replacement once an office is declared ‘vacant,’ which can only occur in certain situations, including if an official dies, resigns or is convicted of a felony. The proposal announced Tuesday would add “leave of absence from duties that is not due to medical or health-related reasons, or military obligations” to the list.