July 27, 2005 in City

Council may take over investigation of mayor

By The Spokesman-Review

Spokane City Council President Dennis Hession on Tuesday called on the full council to take control of a stalled internal review into potentially inappropriate personal activities of Mayor Jim West.

Hession said he plans to introduce a resolution this week that would invoke the council’s broad power to conduct investigations of city affairs. A vote could come as early as Monday.

West has come under fire for allegations that he used his position as mayor, as well as his city computer, to offer internships, other jobs, gifts or favors to young men he was seeking to date. A recall petition against the mayor is pending before the state Supreme Court.

Hession on Tuesday sent a memo to other council members asking them to support a council-authorized investigation of West’s use of city property and job offers.

The move comes one day after City Attorney Mike Connelly announced he is resigning his post to become Spokane Valley’s first city attorney. Connelly, who works under the mayor, seized West’s computer records and formed a citizens panel to determine whether West violated city policies in seeking dates with young men after allegations surfaced in May.

But the panel came under fire from council members, who said Connelly had a conflict of interest because the mayor was his boss, and then former Councilman Steve Eugster, who has sued the city seeking to block the citizen review. Four of five volunteer panel members have now resigned, and the review was put on hold.

Hession in his memo called Connelly’s attempt to investigate West a “courageous act.”

“The council does have the authority pursuant to state and municipal law to approve such an investigative committee, and it is my opinion that we need to step forward at this time to do so,” Hession said in the memo.

In an interview, Hession said it would be unfair to expect Connelly’s replacement to oversee the investigation. He said the council-authorized panel, if approved, would continue with the same charge given to the Connelly panel – to look at the mayor’s use of city property and allegations that he offered City Hall positions to potential dates.

The one remaining member of the Connelly panel – Spokane attorney Nancy Isserlis – has agreed to continue her work if the council invokes its investigative powers, Hession said.

Councilwoman Cherie Rodgers, a critic of the Connelly panel, said she will support Hession’s move.

Councilman Joe Shogan also said he will support Hession. “It’s up to the council now,” he said about the need for an internal review.

Allegations against West came to light starting May 5 in a Spokesman-Review investigation that showed West used his city e-mail to offer an internship to a man he believed was a high school student. The man was actually a computer expert hired by the newspaper to confirm that West was seeking dates online.

The consultant was enlisted in late 2004 after a teenager, who is now 19, reported that he went on a date and had consensual sex with West after meeting him in a gay Internet chat room. The young man said West was using the screen aliases “Cobra82nd” and “RightBi-Guy.”

The Spokesman-Review investigation also included allegations by two men that West molested them when they were boys in the late 1970s. West denies those accusations.

The scandal prompted a North Side woman to file a recall petition against West, which was approved by a Superior Court judge in June, and now is pending on an appeal by West to the state Supreme Court, which is expected to hear the appeal next month.

Connelly on Monday said he is leaving his current job to take the newly created position of city attorney in Spokane Valley, a job he described as a “great opportunity.”

Connelly had come under criticism for his decision to appoint an independent panel to review West’s activities, but dismissed the criticism as politics and said it was part of the job of being a city attorney.

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