Life under the cloud | THE PETRI DISH

When the state’s duly elected auditor disappears while in office does anyone notice beyond the shadow of the Capitol dome?

Jerry Cornfield

When the state’s duly elected auditor disappears while in office does anyone notice beyond the shadow of the Capitol dome?

Doesn’t seem like it.

It’s been two full months since Troy Xavier Kelley discharged his duties to others and cut himself off the public trough to focus on fighting federal criminal charges stemming from his past profession.

The first-term Tacoma Democrat began a self-imposed unpaid exile at 1 p.m. May 4. An hour later his digital existence with the State Auditor’s Office had, to put it politely, been erased.

No mug, no bio and almost no sign of his service. Most mentions of him are in the trove of documents agency officials delivered to investigators then put online for the world to read.

Jan Jutte, the woman entrusted by Kelley to steer the ship in his absence, ordered the expunging and posting in one of her first acts.

“The cloud was never over this office. It was always over him,” she said Tuesday. “I think I was just trying to give less opportunity for questions to be asked.” Since taking the helm, Jutte’s guided the vaunted agency to smoother waters under clearer skies. She said she’s not spoken with Kelley nor does his name come up in office conversations unless they involve an inquiring reporter.

Meanwhile in the past two months, employees in the auditor’s office have issued hundreds of audits of cities, counties, school districts and other appendages of local government. There’s also been an intermittent whistleblower probe and a performance audit or two.

On Tuesday, the executive team huddled for six hours to do what Jutte described as operational planning. The effort that started after Kelley’s election in 2012 amounts to mapping a course for the agency to follow in the coming two to four years.

“In 18 months there is going to be a new person, I know that. It doesn’t mean they can’t alter it,” she said. “This is a continuation of what we were doing before the cloud appeared. I think it is an indication that we are moving forward.”

She’s commanded with steady hand, unbending humility and pretty much without a compass. You don’t need one when you’ve worked at the place 30 years and tackled tasks in about every division of the agency.

“I’m not an unknown,” she said. “I think that helps make this transition out from under the cloud.”

Since 1985, she’s had three elected bosses, all Democrats. Now she’s the boss albeit acting and unelected. She is the first woman and first certified public accountant to occupy the auditor’s chair.

She’ll be in it until Kelley – whose tribulations will henceforth be known as “The Cloud” – returns or, more likely, a successor is elected in November 2016.

That won’t be Jutte. She’s not running, though some want her to do so. She intended to retire until the accumulation of political cumulus threatened the environs she loved. She changed her plans.

“On a day-to-day basis, it is not an issue,” she said. “We are doing audits. That’s who we are. We are moving on.”

That’s what she wants people under the Capitol dome and throughout the state to notice.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com and on Twitter at @dospueblos

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