After a week of answering questions about his business dealings, Troy Kelley went on the offensive today over rival James Watkins’ resume.
At an Association of Washington Business-sponsored debate in Cle Elum between the two candidates for state auditor, Tacoma Democrat Kelley parried attacks about past allegations of theft and questioned Redmond Republican Watkins’ claim to have done 150 performance audits of businesses and governments in his career.
Kelley demanded details and said the number “strains credibility” when current Auditor Brian Sonntag has conducted a third of that total since voters in 2005 gave him the right to do performance audits of state government.
Watkins said after the debate he’s not “performing every one individually” but leads audit teams in a consulting company.
He said the kind of audits he has led in the private sector — or “assessments” or “engagements,” as he said they should be more precisely called — take less time than the ones Sonntag does of state programs. It’s common for them to take as little as one to three months, he said. He’d like to bring that kind of “quick-hit audit” to state government, he said in the debate.
“He’s thrashing out in the way a politician does,” Watkins said, and in the debate he said Kelley will “try to throw up mud to try to distract from his actual, documented testimony in a series of lawsuits.”
The usually low-profile auditor’s race received attention last week when Watkins unveiled a website cataloging hundreds of pages of legal documents from past court cases involving Kelley, a state representative who tracks and records property-title documents for a living.
Kelley had sued a former employer, who in turn tried to prove in court that Kelley had come back to his office one evening to steal a painting after being dismissed. And a client had sued Kelley, saying he owed $3.8 million to clients that he had hidden in a series of transfers between bank accounts in multiple states.
Kelley does not appear to have ever faced criminal charges, and he says lawsuits are just a cost of doing business.
Watkins said the allegations had resonated with the public. A voter he met while campaigning wanted to know: “Are you the thief or are you the other guy?”
Kelley said Watkins was ready with potential websites reserved to attack any of his possible Democratic opponents following the August primary election, and said none of the allegations amounted to anything.
“The cases have all been dismissed. There are no judgments,” Kelley said.
His lawsuit against former employer First American Title Insurance Co. ended after Kelley says he was paid an undisclosed sum. The lawsuit against him also ended in a settlement, this time one that he paid.
And he repeatedly pivoted to Watkins’ business, finally saying Watkins was refusing to give details about his clients or the topics of the 150 audits.
“I’ve had no evidence from this discussion that I can be comfortable feeling you’ve even done one,” Kelley said.
Watkins said he signed nondisclosure agreements that prevents him from discussing many of the clients. He did say he conducted audits for Microsoft while working there.
UPDATE 12:30 a.m.: Watkins says he worked on performance “engagements” or “assessments” for Microsoft, not “audits.” As I mentioned elsewhere in the blog post, he is describing his private-sector work in those terms.
Here are some TVW clips from the candidates mixing it up in the debate: