State auditor a no show at legislative committee hearing

OLYMPIA — Embattled state Auditor Troy Kelley skipped a chance to testify before lawmakers Wednesday, a development that has them pondering their subpoena power.

But Kelley can’t evade an inquiry from Gov. Jay Inslee on the operation of the auditor’s office since a federal probe of Kelley became public last month.

Inslee sent Kelley a letter Tuesday with questions about the day-to-day running of the agency and the activities of an employee, Jason Jerue, who is a central figure in the investigation. Inslee requested answers by April 6.

Kelley’s home was searched by federal agents last month and his office turned over records to a federal grand jury, which has been asking questions about his former escrow-services business.

Inslee released the letter Wednesday morning and Kelley responded in the afternoon.

“While the intense media coverage may have been a distraction, there is no change or impact on our audit and field operations,” Kelley wrote. He also included details of Jerue’s employment.

Inslee made his letter public shortly after the Senate Accountability and Reform Committee conducted a hearing that Kelley did not attend.

Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, the chairman of the committee, invited Kelley to the hearing about integrity and ethical standards at his state agency.

Once it was clear that Kelley would not appear, Miloscia said he was concerned by the auditor’s “decision to go in hiding from the media, from the public, and now, the Legislature.”

“All elected officials must be held accountable to the public. That is our responsibility and our duty,” he said, adding that Kelley should “step aside” if he could not do his duty.

Two members of Kelley’s staff did appear before the committee and spoke about the agency’s ethics rules and training, as well efforts to reduce fraud in state and local government.

The state auditor’s office promotes efficiency and openness in state and local government, conducting financial and performance audits.

Sen. Pramila Jayapal, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said that while she was also very concerned about the questions surrounding the auditor, it was “very important that we allow the current federal investigation that’s taking place to proceed unencumbered and with full due process.”

“As much as we all want answers, I believe that the state Legislature’s role at this point should be to step aside and not interfere in the federal investigation,” she said at the hearing. “I don’t see any benefit in attempting to gather information in this way while the investigation is under way, and I believe we risk politicizing an issue of utmost importance to the citizens of state of Washington.”

The committee’s staff briefed lawmakers on their authority to issue subpoenas commanding someone to appear for testimony. The Legislature hasn’t used that power since 1988, in a judicial misconduct case.

Committee staff cited case law that says any legislative subpoena must be considered within the scope of legislative authority and also must focus on issues germane to future legislation.

After the hearing, Miloscia noted that it’s a high bar for a legislative subpoena, and that while no decision had been made on next steps, it was important to have the discussion.

“Who knows, maybe Troy Kelley stands up and holds himself accountable like his agency holds other people accountable,” he said. “Troy Kelley, I think, wants to do the right thing.”

Kelley has kept a low profile and has not responded to multiple requests for interviews by The Associated Press and other news agencies.

Meanwhile, in his letter, Inslee asked Kelley if he was aware of any conflicts of interest that he or his staff may have that could affect the operation of the auditor’s office.

The governor also wanted to know if the federal investigation was affecting any present or planned audits. And he demanded details on Jerue’s employment and copies of all work-related documents he produced.

“I want it in writing, and I want to be able to share it with the public because confidence in this office is very important,” Inslee said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the documents supplied to federal authorities March 19 can be read online on the agency’s web site at

Herald writer Jerry Cornfield and Associated Press Reporter Derrick Nunnally contributed.

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