August 26, 2005 in City

West wants computer data kept private

By and The Spokesman-Review
 

Spokane Mayor Jim West has taken legal steps to prevent the public from seeing what is on the hard drives of his city-owned computers.

While two of West’s attorneys were arguing before the state Supreme Court Wednesday, another was filing paperwork in Spokane County Superior Court to temporarily block the city attorney’s office from releasing copies of the mayor’s computer hard drives or disks.

A forensic examination of the disks could reveal whether West used the taxpayer-owned computers assigned to him at City Hall to visit gay Web sites and solicit relationships in exchange for jobs.

Earlier this month, FBI agents used a search warrant to seize three of West’s personal computers from his home as part of a federal investigation into allegations of public corruption.

The Spokesman-Review requested copies of West’s City Hall hard drives on May 6 using Washington’s Public Records Act. The request was filed a day after the newspaper reported West was offering public jobs as a way of attracting young male sex partners.

Subsequently, four young men came forward and told the FBI they were offered City Hall jobs or appointments, and even cash, after meeting West in an online gay Web site.

West has refused comment on the recall fight he now faces and the reason he doesn’t want the public to see the contents of his City Hall computers, which were seized in early May by the city attorney’s office as part of a now-stalled internal investigation.

But in the legal papers filed to block the release of the hard drives, or disks, West detailed his reasons.

In a sworn affidavit, West said he used the government-owned computers “in the performance of my mayoral duties and responsibilities for the City of Spokane.”

“I have also used the City computer for personal use that did not occur during City Hall work hours or on regular work days,” West said in the two-page document filed Wednesday in Superior Court.

“I am aware of and have knowledge that there is information on the city computer disk that involves and relates to personal social contacts that I have had that are private and that do not involve governmental or proprietary functions,” West said in the sworn statement.

“I believe the information on the city computer disk is private, not subject to public disclosure, and is exempt from disclosure,” the statement continued. “I would request that no disclosure be made.”

The Spokesman-Review filed a legal challenge to the request on Thursday, citing in part the city’s written policies pertaining to use of City Hall computers by employees and elected officials.

The city’s policy on computers and e-mail, adopted in February 2002, states that City Hall computers are for public, not personal, uses.

“Electronic data … are the property of the City and may be accessed by members of the public under various state or federal laws,” according to city personnel policy “HR-55.”

“Such data should be considered information available to the public,” states the policy.

Spokesman-Review Editor Steven A. Smith said the newspaper believes the public has a right under state law to see the contents of the mayor’s City Hall computers.

“We’ll continue to pursue access to the hard drives which we believe is part of the public record and which ought to be available to Spokane citizens for their inspection,” Smith said.

City officials have released most of the sent, received and deleted e-mails from West’s City Hall computers. But an examination of those hard drives, or disks, also would show stored Word documents, pictures, favorite Web sites and e-mail addresses used as part of Microsoft Outlook.

According to computer experts, forensic analysis of the hard drives also could reveal Internet sites visited by West, including sites he may have deleted.

The public disclosure case involving West’s computer has not been assigned to a judge. Like the drafting of a recall petition earlier this summer, the computer case may be assigned to a visiting judge from outside Spokane County.


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