Politics & Government

Troy Kelley’s schedule shows an elusive state auditor

This story was reported in collaboration with Austin Jenkins of public radio’s Northwest News Network.

Under scrutiny from federal investigators, State Auditor Troy Kelley has kept a low profile.

That didn’t require much adjustment.

Much of Kelley’s day-to-day activity even before now has been a mystery. He’s less visible than most state elected officials, and his involvement in the internal workings of the Auditor’s Office is hard to determine.

His calendar isn’t much help. It doesn’t account for his whereabouts on more than 150 nonholiday weekdays between when he took office in January 2013 and November 2014.

That’s about one in every three weekdays. Not included in that calculation are 18 weekdays of deployment to South Korea for Kelley, an Army judge advocate general and a National Guard lieutenant colonel.

His office couldn’t shed much light on how often the first-term Democrat was in the office, on vacation, traveling on business, or working from his house in Tacoma where he doesn’t have a state-provided computer.

“I can’t tell you that he’s here all the time; I can’t tell you that he’s never here, because it’s just not something I have enough information on. Honest to goodness, I don’t pay attention to that,” Doug Cochran, his chief of staff, said. “He comes; he goes. He’s the state auditor, and I have as much contact as I need.”

Cochran said Kelley is never more than a phone call away, same as his predecessor Brian Sonntag. “We’ve never had trouble getting to Troy when we needed him,” Cochran said.

Kelley, who makes $116,950 in annual salary, was on a weeklong vacation in California when news broke that federal agents had searched his home. A grand jury is examining a business he used to own in the real-estate title industry as part of a criminal probe whose scope and targets remain unclear.

Since his return Monday, he has issued two statements professing puzzlement about the investigation, but has avoided the press and sent Cochran in his stead to public events — and to be interviewed for this story.

Kelley was out Wednesday morning while Cochran answered questions for about an hour. Kelley’s corner office in the Insurance Building on the Capitol campus sat empty, its desk free of clutter, its walls decorated with framed diplomas and its shelves with awards from his three terms as a state legislator.

There was scattered evidence of its occupant’s private life: a baseball mitt, military memorabilia, a picture of Kelley with his wife and two sons. He’s described by Cochran as “introverted” and private.

Sonntag said he hears the office has a more formal atmosphere since he left and responsibilities are more likely to be delegated, but chalks that up to different personal styles.

“He probably puts a lot more of the day-to-day in the hands of staff,” Sonntag said.

The place functions without its top boss giving orders, Cochran said, because Kelley has laid down guidelines that the staff know to follow. In exceptional cases, the staff looks to Kelley to establish a new guideline or approve a new policy.

“I think what he is, isn’t so much (prone to) delegation as he’s comfortable establishing a direction and then expecting it’s going to happen,” Cochran said. “Frankly, that could come from a military context.”

Being an elected official is a 24-7 job, and representing the public is more important than putting in 40 hours of work per week, Cochran said.

The mystery days tallied by the News Tribune and Olympian and public radio’s Northwest News Network show up on Kelley’s calendar either as blank between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., or with references to events that didn’t clearly involve Kelley’s presence or show up in travel reimbursement records.

Some of the blank days are marked with an “X,” an internal code for “do not schedule.”

While the calendar doesn’t say, a handful of weekdays a year could be taken up by National Guard drills, which with few exceptions are held on weekends.

And about a tenth of the mystery days came after the assistant who managed Kelley’s calendar moved to another job and before her replacement arrived.

A calendar, of course, is only one measurement of what a government official is up to.

Cochran said Kelley has left an imprint on the office, particularly in cybersecurity, following up on a campaign promise to focus on that area. Performance audits under his watch have found state agencies haven’t always kept confidential information secure or complied with state security standards.

He said Kelley vets every performance audit, if necessary joining in meetings with agency leaders to talk about the findings. In one meeting he was instrumental in negotiating difficult questions about what details of the state’s cybersecurity measures would be made public, Cochran said.

On smaller, more routine audits of state and local government, he’s more likely to get involved in the event of problems or significant conclusions. He joins Tuesday morning meetings of the executive team in person, Cochran said.

Ivan Dansereau, an audit manager retiring next month after a 30-year career at the auditor’s office, said Kelley sometimes joins every-other-month meetings of managers, generally just to present some kind of recognition.

Dansereau works in satellite offices in Kent and Yakima and said Kelley has visited both offices repeatedly to huddle with staff.

Kelley’s office said he made a point to visit all 13 regional offices in his first six months in the job, which could account for some of the mystery days. It’s not always clear because Kelley didn’t seek reimbursement for mileage and does not have a state-provided car.

Kelley’s office also noted Kelley’s consolidation of office space and restructuring of the organization that eliminated some management positions.

He’s brought a new focus on efficiency, Dansereau said, encouraging the agency to fine-tune work processes and delete redundancy. That has speeded the issuing of audit reports, he said.

“It can be difficult, but it’s well intended and it does serve a purpose,” Dansereau said.

Kelley’s calendar gives a few glimpses of aspects of the job that received his personal involvement.

It shows a series of meetings about a video shown to new employees. Kelley discussed a script for the video, then rehearsed it, recorded it and reviewed the footage.

Former state Democratic Party chairman Paul Berendt said he makes a point to know Democratic officeholders in the state but is less familiar with Kelley, who drew on his own wealth for his 2012 campaign for auditor.

“He’s not as well known in the Capitol community as most of the other statewide elected officials,” Berendt said.