A special panel appointed to investigate City Hall-related activities of Mayor Jim West initially will plow through his 12,000 e-mails in an attempt to determine if he violated city ethics policies or laws.
The panel, which met for the second time Friday, also wants to see what was on the hard drive of the mayor’s computer after it’s released from processing by the FBI.
The FBI is conducting a preliminary inquiry to see if West abused his public office by offering City Hall jobs and appointments to young men to entice them into sexual relationships.
Simultaneously, the “investigative panel” appointed by City Attorney Mike Connelly will attempt to determine whether West violated his oath of office, city personnel policies or other policies dealing with sexual harassment, “general harassment” and discrimination.
Last month, The Spokesman-Review reported that West used his City Hall computer to offer an internship in his office to a man he believed was a high school senior in an online gay chat room. The student was actually a computer forensics expert hired by the newspaper.
West sent an e-mail with a City Hall server address to the student, asking him if he was “still interested” in the internship after the two engaged in seven sexually explicit online chats, using “instant messaging” technology. Transcripts of those chats can be read at the newspaper’s Web site, www.spokesmanreview.com.
After those transcripts were published, Ryan Oelrich, of Spokane, said he had also met the mayor in the gay chat room and later was appointed by West to the city’s Human Rights Commission. Another young gay man told the newspaper he was offered a job as the city’s human resources officer after meeting West in the chat room.
Oelrich resigned in January after West repeatedly asked him out on dates and offered him $300 if they could swim naked together. Oelrich has filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission.
During the investigative panel’s standing-room-only public meeting, retired Superior Court Judge Harold “Pete” Clarke was selected to lead the five-member group, which decided earlier this week that its meetings would be open to the public.
The panel agreed to hold its next public meeting at 10 a.m. Thursday, also in the City Council briefing chambers.
Panelist Nancy Isserlis, a Spokane attorney, was named by Clarke to be a spokeswoman for the panel.
Tom Trulove, an Eastern Washington University economics professor, has resigned “for personal reasons” and didn’t attend Friday’s meeting, Connelly said at the outset.
Michael Stebbins, a Gonzaga University ethics professor, and Isserlis were out of town, but they participated in the 45-minute meeting by conference call.
Clarke and panel member Philip A. Thompson, also a retired judge, sat at a conference table as Connelly outlined the work ahead.
No replacement for Trulove was named at the meeting, but panel members expressed an interest in having a fifth member. Thompson said he wanted no part of that selection process.
Rita Amunrud, a spokeswoman for Citizens for Integrity in Government, spoke up from the audience, volunteering to serve on the panel. She later said she would formally apply for the vacant position.
After the panel discussed its tasks, Thompson asked for questions from the audience.
In response to one question, the retired judge angrily criticized The Spokesman-Review for previously reporting that he had served with West on the Morning Star Boys’ Ranch board of directors from 1993 to 2000.
The newspaper also reported that Thompson was the chief judge of the Court of Appeals Division III, which decided in 1993 to uphold a lower court’s dismissal of a wrongful death lawsuit brought against West following a 1988 scuba diving drowning of a Gonzaga University student.
Thompson said that his name was not on that published appellate court decision and that he had no involvement in the case. The decision was written and signed by three other judges, but it would have been routinely reviewed by the chief judge.
Thompson said published accounts pointing out his past affiliations with West were challenging his integrity, which he said was unblemished during his 25 years on the bench.
The retired judge said he had only been on the West panel two weeks “before I was sucked into the evil vortex of city politics.”
“The irresponsible allegations against me are not taken well, as you can tell,” Thompson said.
The judge said he also has been golfing at Esmeralda Golf Course when West was there, but that shouldn’t imply he can’t fairly and impartially participate in the panel’s work.
Thompson said it would be a “disservice” to the community and the work of the panel if he were to resign in the face of issues about the appearance of conflict of interest.
“I had some doubts about serving,” Clarke said as he reached over to touch and calm the red-faced Thompson.
Clarke was appointed by West in 2004 to serve on another panel that investigated a worker’s death at the city’s Waste Water Treatment Facility. After that work, Clarke said his friends and legal associates asked why he would want to be part of a controversy involving the mayor.
“I knew who Jim West was for years,” Clarke said, later adding: “I haven’t the foggiest idea why he appointed me” to the Waste Water panel.
The retired Superior Court judge, who is 77, said he has lived in Spokane for 73 years.
“It’s time I gave a little bit back,” he said.
Former City Council member Steve Eugster attended the meeting and, like current City Council members Cherie Rodgers and Bob Apple, questioned its legality under the city charter.
But Connelly explained that he believes the city charter provisions defining the authority of the city attorney give him the power to create the panel and select its members. He said he is supported by council President Dennis Hession and Deputy City Manager Jack Lynch.
“The authority isn’t crystal clear, because this situation hadn’t been anticipated,” Connelly said in response to Eugster’s question.