Despite calls for his resignation, Mayor Jim West is staying in office, at least in part to defend himself, his attorney said Thursday during a televised forum.
“There is no forum for the mayor to respond to other than the court of public opinion,” attorney Bill Etter said during a panel discussion about the mayoral scandal that’s gripping City Hall and receiving national media attention.
“I would say that’s probably one of the reasons why he feels he needs to stay in office – in order to keep the forum in which to address these accusations and allegations because once the mayor is no longer the mayor this story will die and no one will follow it.”
KSPS Television’s live panel discussion included heated debate about the calls for the mayor to resign. Participants included Etter, two City Council members, a former councilman, the city’s former longtime manager, and a prominent Spokane businessman.
The two former city leaders – former City Manager Terry Novak and former Councilman Steve Eugster – urged their contemporaries to withhold judgment on West until he has a more thorough chance to respond. On Tuesday, the Spokane City Council voted unanimously to request West to resign.
West has scheduled a press conference for today, and is expected to answer questions from local reporters for the first time since The Spokesman-Review reported that two men have accused him of molesting them in the 1970s, when they were boys and he was a sheriff’s deputy and Boy Scout leader.
The paper also published an investigation that found the mayor had offered gifts, city positions and City Hall internships to young men he was seeking to date through a Gay.com chat line.
West has denied accusations of molestations but said that he “had relationships with adult men.”
Novak, who held the city’s top administrative post from 1978 until 1991, said during Thursday’s forum that he’s afraid “this community is rushing to judgment way too quickly. We could end up quite embarrassed at the end of this.”
But City Council members Brad Stark and Cheri Rodgers said the mayor’s proven behavior is enough to warrant asking for his resignation.
“When you strip away all the allegations – and there are many – there is one thing that is irrefutable and that’s the fact that the mayor had online sex with what he believed was a high school senior,” Stark said. “That’s inappropriate, and that’s wrong and that’s unethical. And I really question whether we can afford to have that kind of leadership in the mayor’s office.”
Spokane businessman Rob Brewster said the mayor should resign regardless of his guilt because the scandal is interfering with his ability to lead.
“He is in a position where he’s got to be able to go to elementary schools and high schools and junior high schools and represent the city,” Brewster said. “And if he can’t do that because parents don’t want him to be there or principals don’t want to be there, than he’s derelict of his duties.”
Some panel members criticized The Spokesman-Review’s investigation, saying it might dissuade good people from going into politics. One of the men West chatted with online was 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.
Eugster said the newspaper improperly violated West’s right to privacy.
“The Spokesman Review has acted illegally. The city council has adopted the illegal work of The Spokesman-Review and is now exposing the city of Spokane to, I think, a great deal of liability to Mayor West,” Eugster said.
Newspaper officials have said the reporting was ethical and legal.
“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,” said the paper’s attorney, Duane Swinton, after Eugster made similar comments to the City Council earlier this week.
Rodgers, who described herself as a frequent critic of The Spokesman-Review, said she agrees with the paper’s use of the online expert.
“This isn’t to me about The Spokesman-Review. It isn’t about Mayor West’s sexual orientation,” Rodgers said. “It’s about ethics in government.”
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