State Auditor Troy Kelley made it clear Wednesday he won’t answer to Gov. Jay Inslee when it comes to how to run his office.
Kelley, a Democrat from Tacoma, sent a letter that appeared to escalate a feud between the two statewide elected officials. In it, Kelley told the governor to focus on problems within his own cabinet agencies instead of asking about staffing changes at Kelley’s office.
Last week, the Democratic governor sent a letter asking for an explanation of why Kelley fired two senior staffers at the Auditor’s Office and told another high-level staff member to stop working a month before he was planning to retire.
In response, Kelley sent a letter to Inslee telling the governor to “refrain from political grandstanding,” and accused him of potentially trying to influence the federal prosecution against Kelley.
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Last month, a jury acquitted Kelley of a charge that he made a false statement to the Internal Revenue Service. The jury couldn’t reach a verdict on 14 other charges including tax evasion, money laundering and lying under oath.
Federal prosecutors haven’t announced whether they plan to retry the first-term auditor, but Kelley has said he doesn’t plan to seek reelection.
I hope you have a deeper concern for the various serious management issues facing your cabinet agencies right now.
State Auditor Troy Kelley in a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee
In Wednesday’s letter, Kelley said that “elected officials have the discretion to appoint their entire exempt management teams for the duration of their terms in office.”
“I hope you have a deeper concern for the various serious management issues facing your cabinet agencies right now,” Kelley told Inslee, citing an audit that found problems with tolling systems at the Washington State Department of Transportation, as well as the scandal surrounding the early release of 3,200 prisoners by the state Department of Corrections.
The employees Kelley fired were his chief of staff, Doug Cochran; Adam Wilson, who had been acting as the head of communications for the agency; and Thomas Shapley, the former agency spokesman who had been acting as a special assistant to Deputy Auditor Jan Jutte.
Shapley said last week he doesn’t believe any of the employees were given an explanation for their dismissal.
This is a bizarre response that deepens our concerns.
Jaime Smith, spokeswoman for Gov. Jay Inslee
In Wednesday’s letter, Kelley didn’t offer much in the way of details, but said he had lost faith in those members of his staff.
“After irreparably losing confidence in one part of the team, the State Auditor’s Office this month made changes only impacting that team, its executive messaging team,” Kelley wrote.
He called it “disappointing” that the governor “did not walk the 50 yards between our offices to address any substantive issues in a give-and-take conversation.”
Kelley also got in a jab at Inslee’s general counsel, Nicholas Brown, who he noted had starred on an early season of the reality television show “Survivor” many years ago.
Kelley said Brown – “of television Survivor fame” – had a close friendship with the lead prosecutor on Kelley’s recent trial, and implied Brown was part of an effort by the governor’s office to to influence the criminal case against Kelley.
Kelley asked Inslee to tell Brown to “refrain from contacting the United States Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Washington,” and requested a reply from the governor by Sunday.
Jaime Smith, a spokeswoman for Inslee, had only one comment Wednesday about Kelley’s letter.
“This is a bizarre response that deepens our concerns,” she said.