State Auditor Troy Kelley proved he’s still capable of surprises last week when he showed up at work in Olympia after eight months of unpaid self-banishment.
So the auditor’s office, which monitors the integrity of government agencies, is again being run by a man who’s potentially facing hard time in prison for business fraud. The U.S. Justice Department has indicted Kelley on charges that include massive theft, money laundering and tax evasion; his trial is scheduled for March.
Why come back now? Lawmakers recently moved to impeach him for “dereliction of duty”: According to their resolution, he “willfully abandoned his statewide elected office, performed none of its duties, and provided no services to the people of the State of Washington since at least May 4, 2015.”
We can’t fault Kelley’s logic. Last spring, some lawmakers were leaning on him to step aside until the criminal case was resolved. He stepped aside, then his very absence became grounds of impeachment. Now that he’s come back, he can’t be impeached for being gone.
A cleaner solution would have been better: Kelley should have resigned. He should still resign. If he doesn’t, he should still be impeached in the House and tried in the Senate on charges of “high crimes or misdemeanors,” as the Washington Constitution provides for.
The fact that he’s back in his office lends more, not less urgency to his removal.