Spokane Mayor Jim West announced Monday he is taking a leave from office to give himself a few weeks to gather his thoughts and prepare a defense against “false accusations leveled against me.”
West made the announcement even as new allegations surfaced against the mayor that he had offered City Hall posts to two men he met online. Also Monday, the single mother of a 9-year-old Cub Scout filed a recall petition against West.
The embattled mayor made a brief appearance before the City Council at its regular weekly briefing session. He gave no indication he has any intention of resigning despite new calls that the mayor step down.
Councilwoman Mary Verner joined Councilwoman Cherie Rodgers in calling for his resignation. “The mayor of the city of Spokane needs to be of the utmost ethical character,” Verner said.
The mayor entered Council Chambers at 3:29 p.m. and walked slowly to the podium.
Clusters of reporters and photographers flanked the mayor as he made his statement four days after The Spokesman-Review published an investigation into allegations that West had sexually abused two boys more than 25 years ago and in recent months had used his office to offer gifts, favors and an internship to personal contacts he made on a Gay.com chat line. West has denied the sex abuse allegations.
“The current news media hysteria is distracting to the business of the city and is occupying a great deal of my time,” said West, who does not normally attend Monday afternoon council briefings.
“I have not taken a vacation since assuming office in January of 2004, and therefore, I’m going to take a leave of a few weeks to gather my thoughts and prepare my defense against the false accusations leveled against me,” West said.
The mayor said that Deputy Mayor Jack Lynch will continue in his role as chief operating officer overseeing the daily operations of the city. The mayor said he would stay in touch with Lynch and be available for consultation with him and Council President Dennis Hession.
“I have asked the other members of the cabinet (the city’s top executives) to step up their efforts to focus on the good initiatives we have started and prepare for the difficult budget we expect for 2006,” West said.
He asked the council, labor groups and employees to maintain a focus on doing the business of the city.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in just the last year and a half, and we have a lot yet to do,” he said.
He closed by criticizing the newspaper’s coverage.
“Finally, I hope that you and the people will reserve judgment on me until the newspaper is done persecuting me and allow me to have the fair opportunity to respond to each of the allegations in due time,” he said.
West then went into a private meeting with City Attorney Mike Connelly, who last week announced an independent investigation into West’s internship program and his use of city computers for personal business.
Top officials within City Hall said they feared losing the momentum West has brought to City Hall.
A recall “charge” by Shannon Sullivan was filed Monday. The Spokane County auditor will serve a copy on West and forward it to the Spokane County prosecutor, according to a news release from the auditor’s office.
The petition states, “It is my opinion that the allegation(s) against Mayor West are prohibiting him from doing the job we elected him to do.”
Sullivan, who works as a florist to support her son, said in an interview, “I expected to be in line down here” as she filed the paperwork. But she was the only one.
She said she decided to act because she was dismayed to read in the newspaper that West may have molested boys in the 1970s and has used City Hall computers to cruise for sex on a gay Web site.
“I teach my son to accept responsibility for wrongdoing. Mayor West needs to accept his and step down,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said she’s “outraged” that the criminal records of Robert J. Galliher and Michael Grant, two men in their 30s who allege West abused them as boys, are causing people to discount their claims.
West, in an interview with the paper last Wednesday and in a public statement on Thursday, called their accusations “flat lies.” But Sullivan says she believes the two men.
The charge must name West and identify “an act or acts” of malfeasance or misfeasance while in office – or put forth evidence that West has violated his oath of office.
A Spokane Superior Court judge will hold a hearing within 15 days of receiving the petition. If the judge authorizes a recall, a signature-gathering process would take place over the following 180 days. If enough signatures are obtained, the recall would be put to a vote.
The required number of valid signatures would be 12,567 – 25 percent of the 50,265 votes cast for all candidates during the mayoral election in November 2003.
During a public forum session following the 6 p.m. Monday council session, several citizens spoke about the scandal.
“This is unacceptable, mayor, and I will not stop speaking until you step down,” said Janine McAlister.
Elsewhere, Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington, D.C., called West’s behavior “appalling” and predicted more allegations of child molestation would surface.
“Pedophilic behavior is always wrong and has nothing do with sexual orientation,” Foreman wrote in a release. “This man – whether he’s straight, bisexual, or gay – deserves nothing but scorn. He needs to resign immediately.”
State Sen. Darlene Fairley, D-Lake Forest Park, on Monday also called for West’s resignation.
“What has happened makes it impossible to govern,” said Fairley, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and a frequent political opponent of West in Olympia. “People will react to him differently. There is no way he can continue on and do a good job of it. This will just get in the way, right or wrong, guilty or not.”