Two former Spokane mayors – John Talbott and Sheri Barnard – called Tuesday for Mayor Jim West to resign.
“If Jim West truly loves this city, as he has stated many times, he will resign immediately and seek help,” Barnard, who was mayor in the early 1990s, said in a prepared statement. “His credibility and trust are gone and can never be regained. Every day he remains in office hurts our city and hurts him.”
Talbott, who served from 1998 through 2000, said, “He has been dishonest with the whole community … Leadership to be effective can’t have dark secrets.”
West on Monday announced he is taking a leave for a few weeks to gather his thoughts and prepare his defense against “false accusations,” including that he molested two boys when he was a Boy Scout leader and deputy sheriff in the 1970s.
An investigation by The Spokesman-Review showed that as mayor, West offered gifts, favors and jobs to young men he met on Gay.com.
Also on Tuesday, nearly 140 community members affiliated with a race relations task force received an e-mail from West, who serves as co-chair of the panel. In the message, sent at 9:30 a.m., West describes news coverage as a “brutal outing.”
In other developments, a woman who filed a recall petition against the mayor on Monday is facing questions over a 2003 incident. Shannon Sullivan, who pleaded guilty last year to intimidation with a dangerous weapon, said she will continue to pursue West’s recall.
At City Hall, officials sought to turn their attention away from the mayor’s problems and back to typical business of local government, including the potential for budget cuts and the need for a bond issue to finance settlement of a lawsuit over River Park Square’s parking garage.
“We’ll just keep trying to move forward and stay focused on the city’s priorities…” said Deputy Mayor Jack Lynch, who was suddenly cast into the role of the city’s chief officer.
Lynch said that the mayor has decided not to veto a recently adopted ordinance extending city benefits to unmarried partners of city employees. Partners could be of either the same or opposite sex. West, a longtime opponent of gay rights, had argued against the ordinance, which passed by a 5-2 majority on April 25. A veto can be overridden with five votes.
While city workers sought to concentrate on business, reverberations from the scandal continued to spread.
Spokane has become the subject of worldwide media coverage. Councilwoman Cherie Rodgers said she did not get any sleep after her Monday night council meeting because of requests for interviews beginning as early as 2 a.m. on Tuesday.
City officials said West continued to have access to e-mail on the city’s computer system from his home. “He’s the mayor and he still has a right to use our equipment, obviously,” said Marlene Feist, the city’s public affairs officers.
West’s e-mail Tuesday went out just before the Task Force on Race Relations was to meet at Gonzaga University.
The task force is charged with making Spokane a community “where harassment, intimidation, discrimination and violence are totally unacceptable.”
West in his e-mail poses a series of questions:
“Does that include people who have an internal struggle with who they are sexually and are searching for a way to come out and are torn by a desire to be out and a fear of what happens if they are? Do others who desire to be out but are having similar struggles now live in greater fear because of a brutal outing? Should we all fear that our private conversations will be splashed publicly and out of context for all in our sphere to see? Should we not stand up for justice – even for those we despise? Because if we don’t, who will stand up for us?”
Part of West’s e-mail is an apparent reference to the newspaper’s documenting of online chats between West and a man hired by the newspaper to confirm that West was using Gay.com to find dates with younger men.
An inquiry from the newspaper was sent to West’s city e-mail address asking him to confirm that he was the author of Tuesday’s e-mail. The newspaper did not receive a response but city spokeswoman Feist said the e-mail appeared authentic and would have been very difficult to fabricate.
Stephen Faust, who works as an independent consultant in education and interpersonal behavior, was one of the task force members receiving the e-mail. He said it seemed “out of place” since the task force concentrates on race relations, and the intent seemed “awkward,” like a “desperate plea for acceptance.”
Former Mayor Barnard, a task force member who chaired Tuesday’s meeting, said she was “aghast” at West’s conduct.
“Since last Thursday when The Spokesman-Review issued the first reports on West’s background and alleged pedophile behavior, with the continuing coverage on his e-mail messages signed by ‘Cobra82nd’ and ‘RightBi-Guy,’ it has been a nightmare,” Barnard said in a statement.
“Now the revelations by Ryan Oelrich and others regarding West’s appointments and email conversations surface and the story gets worse,” she said.
On Tuesday, the newspaper reported that West appointed Oelrich, a 24-year old gay man, to the city’s Human Rights Commission and then pressured him for dates through sexually explicit email over 10 months.
Oelrich has said he rebuffed a series of sexual advances from the mayor and that West once offered him $300 if he would swim naked with West.
As the controversy over the mayor continued, Lynch found himself alternately answering media questions and going about his new job of filling in for the mayor.
Spokane County Commissioner Mark Richard said he’s been impressed with how city staff has reacted under pressure, and that he’s confident the county will be able to continue working with the city in the coming weeks and months.
Richard said West should resign if accusations of pedophilia are true, or if he used his office “to entice individuals into personal relationships – and I don’t care if they’re young adults or are male or female.”
Elsewhere, West has faced a firestorm of attention.”If all or any of the allegations of sexual misconduct are true, then the mayor should resign immediately,” Patrick Guerriero, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, a group of gay members of the GOP, told the Associated Press.
The activists have also criticized West’s two decades of voting against gay rights as a member of the Washington Legislature.
Sullivan, the woman who filed paperwork Monday to start a recall effort against West, pleaded guilty last year to intimidation with a dangerous weapon.
According to court documents, the conviction against Sullivan arose after police investigated a drive-by shooting in September 2003 at a north Spokane address. Police found that four rounds had been fired at parked vehicle, and one of those rounds also hit the home.
Records indicate that the day after the shooting, Sullivan turned herself in and confessed to police that she shot the vehicle. In pleading guilty, she wrote that the incident involved a dispute with a friend over the tires on the car.
“I did the wrong thing in the incident and the very next morning got up and took responsibility for it,” Sullivan said. “I made a grave, terrible mistake and acknowledged that at the time. …I don’t feel that that has any reflection on anything to do with my petition for the mayor.”
Sullivan, who was sentenced to a day in jail and a year of probation, said she has received “overwhelming” support for a recall. “I’ve had people coming to my home wanting to sign the petition right now, and I’ve had to explain to them that there’s a process, that we can’t just start a petition.”
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