The Spokane City Council Tuesday unanimously called for Mayor Jim West to resign, and took an initial step to give the council impeachment power over the mayor through the City Charter.
West, meanwhile, took a national stage in a morning appearance on NBC’s “Today” show in his emerging strategy to preserve power in the wake of a sex scandal that has drawn international attention to Spokane and prompted widespread calls for his resignation.
“I admire his willingness to fight,” said Councilman Al French, “but I don’t like the fight at the expense of the city. …This is a burden on the community.”
Council President Dennis Hession said allegations against the mayor have consumed the city, as well as the mayor, for nearly four weeks now.
“Even today as the mayor spoke on national TV, the focus continued to be on the city of Spokane because he sat there as the mayor of Spokane,” Hession said just before the council voted unanimously in favor of a resolution calling for West to step down.
Councilman Joe Shogan said, “These energies need to be devoted to moving this city forward.”
Hours earlier, West appeared on the “Today” show seated next to host Matt Lauer in a New York studio and answered questions for the first time about the scandal.
He made the stop on his way to Tampa, Fla., for a meeting of a presidential commission, scheduled to run through Thursday. The mayor is scheduled to hold a press conference in Spokane on Friday to talk about the scandal.
Former Mayor Sheri Barnard, one of the first community leaders to call for West’s resignation, said the unanimous vote by the council will send a message to the rest of the country that the residents of Spokane do not condone the mayor’s behavior. “His problems are not our city’s responsibility,” Barnard said.
Calls for resignation have come from key business groups, including the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce.
The council in its second resolution unanimously agreed to seek an amendment to the City Charter that would create a disciplinary process against the mayor, including potential impeachment by the council. The amendment could go to voters as early as September.
On the “Today” show, West took issue with a suggestion by Lauer that he has been outspoken in opposing gay rights, interrupting the host midway through one question.
“I voted to represent my legislative district in the Legislature. I was not an advocate,” West said. “I did not stand up; I was not a leader of the charge in any of those cases. Every representative and every senator from my district voted exactly the way I voted.”
The mayor’s anti-gay record includes a 1986 bill sponsored by West and 14 other Republicans that would have barred gay men and lesbians from working in schools, day-care centers and some state agencies. During a 1990 hearing, West proposed that teen sex be criminalized. Both efforts failed.
“I’m not a closet liberal pretending to be a conservative; I’m a conservative,” West told Lauer.
“And what’s wrong with somebody who has what’s called an alternative lifestyle or an alternative sexual orientation being a conservative? Can a gay or bisexual person be conservative? Can a black person be conservative? Can a Hispanic person be conservative? I think they can.”
The Spokesman-Review, in an investigation published beginning May 5, found the mayor had offered gifts, sports tickets, travel, city positions and City Hall internships to young men he was seeking to date through a Gay.com chat line.
One of the men was actually a computer expert hired by the newspaper to confirm the mayor’s activities. The expert posed as a 17-year-old high school student about to turn 18. Transcripts of the exchanges between West and the expert have been posted on the newspaper’s Web site and excerpts were published in the newspaper on May 5.
The resignation resolution drew testimony from about 20 citizens, including former Councilman Steve Eugster, who claimed the newspaper conducted an “illegal invasion of privacy” by publishing the conversations between West and the computer expert.
In those transcripts, West used the screen name “RightBi-Guy” to communicate with the expert, who went by the name “Moto-Brock.” The conversations occurred over America Online instant messaging.
Duane Swinton, attorney for the newspaper, said, “We carefully reviewed the procedures that The Spokesman-Review has undertaken and are confident that the conduct of the paper was not illegal and that the actions of the newspaper did not infringe on Mayor West’s privacy.”
Several citizens told the council that allegations against the mayor are unproved and the mayor deserves due process. Donna McKereghan warned the council its resolution was setting a precedent where innuendo and allegations “can take you out of office.”
Others were as adamant the mayor should go.
Mary Gaddy said the mayor should follow the same logic he used with Lauer in explaining his political opposition to gay rights: Follow the wishes of a majority of his constituents and resign.
During his “Today” show interview, West denied that he misused his office for personal gain. He called the FBI’s interest in the case “a very preliminary inquiry to see whether or not an investigation is justified.”
The city attorney is appointing an independent panel to review West’s use of his computer and his internship program.
West on Monday repeated his denial of allegations by two men that he sexually molested them in the 1970s, when they were boys and West was a sheriff’s deputy and Boy Scout leader.
West told Lauer, “I did not know those two men, never heard of them before The Spokesman-Review brought them to my attention.”
One of the men, Robert J. Galliher, is the plaintiff in a negligence lawsuit against Spokane County over allegations of sexual abuse committed by another former deputy sheriff who was a friend of West’s and a co-scoutmaster with West. The deputy, David Hahn, committed suicide in 1981 during an internal sheriff’s investigation of molestation.
West’s travel expenses to New York were paid by the “Today” show, said West’s attorneys, Carl Oreskovich and Bill Etter.
Hession in an interview said West’s appearance on NBC underscored the larger problem: that West’s continued effort to defend himself is bringing ongoing negative publicity to Spokane.
“I thought it was unfortunate,” Hession said of the mayor’s appearance. “I don’t think it was healthy for the city.”
Rita Amunrud, of the newly formed Citizens for Integrity in Government, said the mayor should be staying in Spokane and addressing concerns of citizens here, not appearing on a television show with an international audience.
“I am offended,” she told the council.
Over the weekend, the citizens group established a Web site called “West Must Go,” at www.westmustgo.com.
Amunrud said group members may become involved in a recall petition filed last month by Shannon Sullivan.
Sullivan appeared before the council and said she believes the mayor’s reported activities provide a sufficient basis for a recall for malfeasance in office.
Rob Binger, deputy civil prosecuting attorney, said on Tuesday he expects to file the petition and a ballot synopsis today with Spokane County Superior Court. A judge will schedule a hearing within 15 days to determine whether there is sufficient cause to bring a recall petition and whether the ballot synopsis is adequate, Binger said.
If the judge approves the petition, the sponsor would have 180 days to gather 12,567 signatures to place the recall on the ballot.