May 14, 2005 in City

Mayor resisting calls to resign

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Mayor Jim West is privately being urged to resign by some of his most important political allies – leaders of the Spokane business community who fear ongoing damage to economic development efforts because of the sex scandal enveloping the mayor.

West so far has resisted the entreaties and continues to believe he can ride out the controversy, according to a variety of sources – including some who talked off the record – familiar with the discussions and West’s activities in recent days.

Councilwoman Cherie Rodgers, who has called for West to resign, said business leaders are searching for “an exit strategy.”

West announced Monday he was taking a leave, but not resigning, in the wake of allegations by two men that West molested them when they were boys in the 1970s – allegations West denies – and that the mayor sought dates with young men he met on Gay.com, offering them jobs, gifts and favors.

West has not denied having online relationships. The allegations were part of an investigation by The Spokesman-Review, published beginning May 5. The FBI is now looking into the matters.

On Friday, top leaders of the business community met to discuss ways to control what they view as damage to the city’s image, said council President Dennis Hession, who would become mayor, at least temporarily, if West resigns.

“I know members of the business community have met with him,” Hession said.

The behind-the-scenes discussions illustrate the delicate position in which the business community finds itself. West, known for his skills at political infighting, is reportedly trying to hold onto his power despite the weight of the scandal. Before the allegations arose, West was seen as a catalyst for economic development in the city.

Also Friday, former Mayor Sheri Barnard said she is urging citizens to turn out at Monday night’s City Council meeting and ask the council to demand West’s resignation. The council meets at 6 p.m. in the lower level of City Hall.

Barnard, who lost to West in the 2003 primary election for mayor, said, “We are sad about Jim West, but he needs to resign and seek help for his own sake and the good of our community.”

Meanwhile, an attorney representing West issued a statement, responding to a recall petition filed against the mayor this week by a North Side woman. “The mayor feels strongly that he has always performed his duties with the best interests of the city in mind and has never used or abused his office for personal reasons,” attorney Bill Etter said in the statement. Etter received the recall papers Wednesday.

Gov. Christine Gregoire on Friday said she has received requests for a state investigation into West’s actions from Spokane residents and would consider ordering one by the Washington State Patrol at some future date, if requested by Spokane County’s prosecuting attorney. At this point, however, she believes the patrol must “stand down” while the FBI is doing a preliminary investigation.

Gregoire said, “If this community believes this needs an independent investigation, I stand ready to have the patrol do one.”

Rich Hadley, president and CEO of the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce, described one meeting with West this week. Hadley said he and Gary Livingston, chancellor of Community Colleges of Spokane, met with West on Monday to talk about how to keep Spokane moving forward. They discussed with West what he was planning to do in that context, Hadley said.

Hadley said that meeting was not an effort to persuade West to step down.

“There has not been a concerted effort to get the mayor to resign …” Hadley said. “I think there has been discussion of what alternatives are there relative to this situation or crisis being resolved.”

But other sources in the business community and in government say that they are gently urging West to resign without a direct challenge to his authority.

Hadley, whose organization represents 1,400 employers in the region, said that business people are talking about the controversy, just like many others in the community, and that their reactions are mixed, as in other quarters.

“Part of it is that natural feeling that we need to build on Spokane’s successes,” he said. “So you end up with discussions in business around concern for Jim, the individual, concern for the city as a result of Jim’s actions and concern for our economic prosperity. Have those discussions occurred? Absolutely.”

Hession said he met Friday with representatives of the chamber, Spokane Area Economic Development Council and the Spokane Area Convention and Visitors Bureau about ways to minimize damage that may be caused by the allegations. One idea was to hire a consultant who could help develop strategies to retain government grants, attract new employers, draw large conventions and maintain the city’s footing with financial markets.

Hession said business leaders may start speaking out about the West situation in coming days.

The mayor throughout the week kept busy directing city staff by telephone and attending meetings away from City Hall, officials said.

If he resigns, West would be eligible for a pension based on his years of public service as a deputy sheriff in the late 1970s, a Republican state legislator and mayor for the past 16 months. In general, the pension is based on a percentage of the past two years of salary. The mayor currently earns $136,000 a year.

As a legislator, West’s highest salary came in 2003 when he served as Senate majority leader. He earned just under $50,000 that year, according to the office of the secretary of the Senate.

West would be eligible to continue purchasing his own health care benefits for a period of 18 months under federal law. The cost would be about $330 a month.

Gregoire was in Spokane on Friday for an announcement on military base closures nationwide.

During her appearance at the Spokane Regional Business Center, Gregoire told several dozen business leaders that Spokane is “skyrocketing upwards,” making progress on civic, economic and educational projects.

Asked if she thought the controversy swirling around West could affect that, the governor replied: “Spokane has got so much going for it. I just don’t want anything to detract from the good that’s going on.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris, who served with West in the Legislature, also said she was reluctant to discuss West’s problems on a day when many in Spokane were cheering the news that Fairchild Air Force Base is not facing closure.

“There’s an investigation taking place, and I think it’s important that we are thorough and cautious before we jump to conclusions,” McMorris said after the session at the business center. “I want to keep the topic on (Fairchild). That’s good news for the community.”


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