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City urges state, fed inquiries into West

Spokane City Attorney Mike Connelly on Wednesday asked state and federal authorities to conduct their own investigations into the sex abuse controversy involving Mayor Jim West.

The move comes one day after the U.S. Justice Department in Spokane confirmed that the FBI has already started its own investigation into the potential for public corruption stemming from West’s use of his office to entice young men into sexual relationships.

Connelly also asked state Attorney General Rob McKenna to investigate.

“In light of the allegations made in the last two days, and the FBI inquiry, as well as the possible conflict of interest with both city and county law enforcement, we believe it is in the best interest of the citizens and the city of Spokane to request these investigations by independent agencies,” Connelly said in a prepared statement.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general confirmed late Wednesday that McKenna had received the request, but there was no immediate response to it. McKenna was scheduled to make an appearance in Spokane today on efforts to fight methamphetamine abuse.

West on Monday announced he was taking a leave from office for a few weeks to respond to what he called “false accusations,” including statements by two men that West molested them when they were boys in the 1970s and West was a Spokane County deputy sheriff and Boy Scout leader.

Also on Wednesday, Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire said the controversy surrounding West should not stop Spokane from continuing its progress as a city.

She declined to comment on the investigation or the allegations. “I guess it’s my former training,” Gregoire, a former state attorney general, said at a bill-signing ceremony in Olympia. “I’m reticent, frankly, to speak out in any way whatsoever now that all of that’s going on. But I must say my heart goes out to Spokane.

“I know Spokane has been coming together as a community, building itself up, feeling great about itself. And it’s just unfortunate for everyone in Spokane County that this has happened.”

Gregoire supported Spokane officials this year in obtaining state funds for local projects, including the Fox Theater renovation and a science center on the north bank of the Spokane River.

At City Hall on Wednesday, nearly 450 employees took part in an employee barbecue on an outdoor deck overlooking the lower Spokane Falls. The barbecue was one of West’s ideas for improving employee morale and building teamwork among workers.

West did not attend.

Workers who participated in the event said there was little conversation about the embattled mayor. Several employees later said West is well liked, and that the controversy surrounding him has been hard to comprehend.

“We’ve got to continue to look at all of the good positive accomplishments he did,” said Deputy Mayor Jack Lynch, who assumed day-to-day duties of the mayor on Tuesday.

West has “definitely improved morale here,” said Chief Financial Officer Gavin Cooley.

Outside City Hall, FBI agents were expected to interview two men, both 24, who said they were separately offered positions on the Human Rights Commission and jobs following online chats with a man who turned out to be West. At least three federal laws could apply, sources said.

In addition, the state has an “abuse of office” law that prohibits public officials from benefiting from any illegal act.

“I’m hoping the FBI will give us answers relatively quickly on some of these things,” said Councilman Bob Apple.

Connelly said the city will continue plans to conduct its own independent investigation to determine whether the mayor violated city policies regarding use of city computers and city resources to seek personal relationships through a chat line.

The Spokesman-Review, in its investigation published beginning last Thursday, hired a computer expert to go online, initially posing as a 17-year-old high school student, to confirm whether West was using the chat room to entice dates through offers of gifts, favors and positions.

A city policy states, “The Internet shall not be used to access or transmit obscene, profane, pornographic, abusive, harassing, discriminatory or threatening information, pictures or representations.”

Another city policy on e-mail use prohibits “reference to or discussion of any sexual acts, sexual relationships, dates, dating, personal relationships, or sexually related graphics.”

West in an e-mail on Tuesday described media coverage of his personal life as a “brutal outing.”

Contents of his computer were captured by city officials last Thursday after news accounts were published, and his office computer later was taken. He continued this week to have use of the city’s e-mail system, from his home, and apparently used it to send an e-mail to members of the Task Force on Race Relations on Tuesday.

Also on Wednesday, a man and two women protested outside The Spokesman-Review with cardboard signs painted with blue letters, one of which read: “We Support Jim West 100%.” They then headed to City Hall for a brief protest there.