Our Voice: Public officials need to be honest and transparent

Today is the last day to file to run for public office in Washington state.

And while there are many factors to consider when contemplating a candidacy or a candidate, none is probably more important than honesty.

Under that umbrella or other key words like transparency, integrity and forthrightness.

We bring this up because we have seen a spate of let’s call it “shady” behavior by public officials lately.

Of all people, those elected to lead us should be playing by the rules.

That seems pretty simple, but the predicaments that some of our officials — or now former elected officials — have found themselves in lately make us wonder if they somehow forgot that part of the job.

The highest profile of the bad bunch is State Auditor Troy Kelley, who was recently indicted on 10 counts, including stealing money from former clients, tax evasion and lying under oath. Our justice system is based on the belief that people are innocent until proven guilty, and Kelley will get his day in court to defend himself. He has pleaded innocent to all charges and is on an unpaid leave of absence from his office.

The embattled auditor has been dogged by allegations of unseemly business practices in his private sector work, and had even settled a similar case. He certainly doesn’t seem fit to uphold the role of auditor, even if he is found innocent. He is tainted. Yet he has refused requests to resign by the governor and others, and lawmakers are discussing an impeachment effort.

Kelley doesn’t seem to be doing anything to make his side of the story more believable. Just this week we learned he emptied his campaign fund to pay for a media relations firm to aid with communication about his legal defense. That use of the funds has drawn questions of impropriety, especially since Kelley is purported to be wealthy man.

Closer to home, Rep. Susan Fagan, a Republican representing the 9th District, came under fire for ethics violations that included falsifying mileage and expense reports and using staff time to campaign. Though Fagan denied the allegations, she resigned and promised to pay back the money in question. Fagan had held the office since 2009, so she was no novice, either.

To be sure, Fagan and Kelley are not the only public office holders to disappointment with their lack of ethics, but they are certainly top of mind. In Fagan’s case, she took the best course of action: resign, apologize and promise to never let it happen again.

Kelley continues to cloud confidence in our state’s leadership because he refuses to resign to focus on his pressing legal fight. Whether it’s an inflated ego or excessive pride or that he truly believes he did nothing wrong, Kelley keeps showing his poor leadership skills by his failure to do right by those who elected him and quit.

Let’s hope the newest crop of candidates willing to serve our citizens are of better character and see these cases as a reason to run for office and put the best interests of those who elected them above their own.