The board of the Spokane Area Economic Development Council came out against Mayor Jim West on Wednesday, joining two other key business groups and a unified City Council in asking for West’s resignation.
Also on Wednesday, Spokane County Commissioner Mark Richard called for West to step down.
Jon Eliassen, president and chief executive officer of the EDC, said in a statement Wednesday afternoon, “National press coverage and ongoing investigations continue to take attention away from focusing on other regional issues, and in light of the admitted behavior by Jim West, it is in the best interests of the community that Mayor West step aside.”
There were no dissenting votes among about 40 business and government leaders that compose the EDC board, although there were some abstentions, Eliassen said. The EDC is the region’s leading business recruiter and receives $95,000 a year in support from the city.
“We’re getting too much negative coverage. And not only in the United States, but I’m hearing about it from people in Europe and I got an e-mail from a guy in China” Eliassen said. “I mean, this is not good.”
Eliassen did not cite direct evidence that West is damaging economic development. He said the board believes the mayor’s admitted behavior – that he used the Web to solicit young male sex partners – has diverted attention from positive news about Spokane.
“My feeling is we have to get this off the front page of the paper,” Eliassen said. “We do end up spending time answering questions about just what is going on in Spokane.
“Without strong, clear leadership going forward, people will start to ask what direction we’re headed.”
For his part, West continued to resist the pressure, keeping up a schedule of meetings and some community appearances in an effort to shore up his political standing.
On Monday, the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau called for West’s resignation.
Also, City Council members are reported to be unanimous in their support for a resolution, up for adoption on Tuesday, calling for West’s resignation.
Councilman Joe Shogan, who previously supported a formal administrative leave, said the stand taken this week by business leaders helped persuade him.
“I just feel it’s time,” Shogan said. “The public image of the city is what I am concerned about.”
Commissioner Mark Richard said, “This notion of abuse of power concerns me.”
The newly seated commissioner suggested that community leaders make West an offer to get him to leave office.
“Rather than having him continue nine months, I’d rather see the community negotiate a deal to get him secure and help him move on so that we can move on,” Richard said. “If he really is as he says – a believer and lover of our community – he needs to do the right thing.”
Richard, a Republican, added that it appears West is unwilling to step down, and speculated that the reluctance might have to do with concerns about his pension and health insurance. West served as a Republican in the Legislature for two decades before taking the nonpartisan mayor’s office in 2004.
An investigation by The Spokesman-Review, published beginning May 5, cited allegations by two men who claim that West sexually abused them when they were boys and West was a deputy sheriff and Scout leader in the 1970s. West denies those allegations.
The newspaper also showed that West has used his office as mayor to seek dates from young men he met on Gay.com.
One of the young men West approached for a date has filed a complaint with the city’s Human Rights Commission.
Ryan Oelrich, 24, spent two hours in a closed-door meeting Tuesday evening with the commission, discussing his dealings with West, officials said.
Oelrich told the newspaper earlier this month that West appointed him to a seat on the commission in April 2004, and Oelrich later learned that it was West who was corresponding with him under the online aliases “Cobra82nd” and “RightBi-Guy.”
Oelrich said West suggested he apply for an internship at City Hall. On another occasion, Oelrich said the mayor “offered me $300 cash if I’d swim naked with him in my swimming pool.” Oelrich said he rebuffed West’s advances and later resigned from the Human Rights Commission.
West in recent days has been attending a variety of public events, including last week’s leadership prayer breakfast and last Thursday’s meeting of the Northwest Neighborhood Association.
Shogan, who attended the neighborhood meeting, said West was confronted there by one woman who told him his behavior was troublesome.
Next week, West is scheduled to travel to Tampa, Fla., to attend the final meeting of the U.S. Commerce Department’s Strengthening America’s Communities Initiative Secretarial Advisory Committee.
“It has been a privilege to serve on this committee,” West said in a press release Wednesday. “I have strived to represent the needs of Spokane and similar communities across the nation.”
West was one of 17 national and regional experts appointed prior to the current scandal to consider a Bush administration proposal to revamp community development funding through Commerce.
Former Spokane County Commissioner John Roskelley, a Democrat, criticized the current commissioners for not taking more leadership on the West issue. His comments came during a Tuesday evening KSPS-TV program about the scandal.
County Commissioners Phil Harris and Todd Mielke, both Republicans, said Wednesday that they are in an awkward position because of West’s connection to civil litigation against the county regarding former sheriff’s deputy Deputy Hahn, an associate of West’s in the 1970s.
The lawsuit by plaintiffs that include Robert J. Galliher alleges the county failed to supervise and investigate Hahn, said Mielke, who added that attorneys involved in the case have the ability to make the same claim regarding West.
Mielke, who interned for West as a high school student, served as West’s legislative assistant from 1988 through 1990. Mielke also was West’s campaign manager.
In his jobs, Mielke handled West’s schedule, correspondence and messages. Mielke said he never witnessed anything to make him suspect improper behavior.
“If there was anything going on during that time frame, I would have been aware of it,” Mielke said.
As for the more recent allegations that West misused his mayoral office, Mielke said that he’s waiting for the FBI and city investigations to take their course before he weighs in on whether West should stay or resign.
“I’m going to let them do their job. I think it’s irresponsible to come to a conclusion before those investigations are completed,” Mielke said, adding that West continues to perform all of his mayoral duties.
“While some people see this as bringing the community to a standstill, I don’t,” Mielke said.
David Nice, professor of political science at Washington State University, said he believes West can survive the controversy. “My impression is that it (the furor over the allegations) is fading already,” he said, but the key will be how much support West has lost among former supporters.
To bolster his support now, West will have to be visibly successful quickly, Nice said. His advice: “Try not to have any further revelations and focus on getting the work done.”
“Probably the big tipping point for people will be, ‘Is he able to get the job done now?’ “
Initiative populist Tim Eyman, who in 2002 tearfully confessed to taking tens of thousands of dollars in political donations for his personal use, survived that trouble, Nice noted.
“Although in Eyman’s case he had a financial flap, there were some people that thought he was finished politically after that,” Nice said. “But he bounced back pretty quickly, really. It may be possible that West is going to ride this out.”
As for the proposed recall, it’s no easy task, Nice said.
“A lot of people all over the country are getting a little tired of confrontation politics and attack politics,” he said. “That may make things a little more difficult for the recall supporters.”
West appears to be enjoying support among city employees.
Joe Cavanaugh, president of Local 270, which represents rank-and-file workers, said West “has treated us with dignity and respect.”
Cavanaugh said West has included union officials in budget and other deliberations, and meets with city labor leaders quarterly, giving labor “unparalleled inclusion” in decision making.