November 20, 2005 in City

Recall Q & A

The Spokesman-Review
 

THE BALLOT

What is on the recall ballot?

The ballot has a “recall charge” which proposes that Spokane Mayor Jim West be removed from office because he used his office for “personal benefit” by offering to help obtain a student internship for someone he met online and discussed dating and sex.

It also contains West’s response that he has never used his office for “personal gain,” that he has not been charged with any crime or misuse of his office, and that he has the right to due process. West also argues that the city has improved during his time as mayor and wants the progress to continue, and that while he’s made “errors in his private life,” he has apologized and asked for forgiveness.

Voters can mark their ballots for or against the recall.

Is there anything else on the ballot?

No. This is a single-issue, special election.

Do I have to vote because I received a ballot?

No. Every registered city voter will receive a ballot (those outside the city do not vote and will not receive ballots). If you choose not to vote, you can tear up your ballot and throw it away.

What day is the election?

Ballots were mailed out Friday to every voter in the city. They must be postmarked no later than Dec. 6, the designated Election Day. On that day, there will also be three “drop-off” sites in the city where voters can take their ballots between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Didn’t we just have a city election? Why are we voting again?

Because of legal delays over the wording of the ballot language, recall supporters could not gather signatures until it was too late to qualify for the Nov. 8 ballot. State law has a strict timeline for recall elections that qualify for the ballot, and Dec. 6 was the last day that falls within that timeline.

INTERNET CONTACTS

Who is the person mentioned in the recall charge with whom West was discussing sex and internships?

West was having the discussions with someone he met on the Internet site Gay.com who used the screen name “Moto-Brock.” As is typical for such Internet meeting services, West also used screen names – “Right Bi-Guy” and “JMSElton.”

West thought Moto-Brock was a high school senior who was 17 when they first started talking online and subsequently turned 18. Moto-Brock was actually a forensic computer expert hired by The Spokesman-Review to verify the allegations of a real 19-year-old Spokane man who told the newspaper on the condition of anonymity that he was contacted online by, and had sex with, a person who claimed to be West.

Did the newspaper entrap West?

West has made that claim, but the newspaper’s editors contend they were forced to resort to a rare instance of deception to confirm information from the 19-year-old they could not confirm any other way.

The forensic computer expert, who had technical expertise the newspaper staff did not have, was not initially told that RightBi-Guy might be West; instead he was told to determine the identity of the person using the screen name RightBi-Guy.

West also deceived Moto-Brock, by saying he was 47 (he was 53) and saying he knew the mayor, but was not the mayor.

Did the newspaper break the law by deceiving West?

No. West has said he plans to sue The Spokesman-Review for invading his privacy, but that would be a civil claim, if he files it.

While there are no universally accepted rules on such practices, the American Society of Newspaper Editors has guidelines that say the use of deception to gain information for a story should be rare, and only used when there is no other way to confirm information.

Why won’t the newspaper reveal Moto-Brock’s identity?

As part of its agreement in hiring the forensic computer expert, the newspaper guaranteed anonymity. The expert has agreed to testify in any criminal or civil trial, should one arise, and would reveal his identity at that point.

Who first raised the issue of sex in the Internet chats between RightBi-Guy and Moto-Brock?

West has said it was Moto-Brock, but transcripts of their conversations, which were recorded by Moto-Brock, indicate it was West.

In their first contact on Feb. 19, Moto-Brock says he recently got his account on Gay.com, and “not much happens.”

RightBi-Guy agrees, and when Moto-Brock asks, “What kind of stuff u do?” RightBi-Guy replies, “For fun or you talking sex here?”

A short time later in that same conversation, RightBi-Guy writes, “Can I ask something personal?” When Moto-Brock says sure, RightBi-Guy asks, “Have you had an experience with a guy?”

Who first raised the subject of an internship in the chats?

West has said it was Moto-Brock. The newspaper’s computer expert said it was West. The chat window capturing the conversation between the two closed due to a technical problem before the expert was able to record the details of the offer. The expert sent an e-mail to newspaper editors alerting them of the problem and describing the two minutes of text that was lost. In the e-mail, the expert said West raised the internship issue.

Did West promise Moto-Brock an internship?

West has said he made no guarantee Moto-Brock would be selected. But a transcript of their chat on April 9 indicates otherwise. The two had previously discussed Moto-Brock applying for a City Hall internship, with West promising to have “a friend set you up at his work…it’s sorta’ political or public service.” At the time, West had not revealed to Moto-Brock that he was the mayor, but during their April 9 conversation, West sent Moto-Brock his picture, then sent him a link to his page on the city’s Web site, with the admonition, “Please don’t tell anyone at all.”

Moto-Brock then asked, “You are who I’m applying with?”

West replied, “See this is what I was afraid of. Now you won’t apply.”

Moto-Brock said his reason for not applying for the internship was because he didn’t think he’d get it and, “I didn’t want to disappoint u.”

West replied, “Oh you were going to get it.”

West and Moto-Brock agreed to meet the next day at a golf course, but the newspaper determined it had the verification it was seeking and told the computer expert to break off contact through Gay.com. West continued to e-mail Moto-Brock, who said his real name was Brock Stewart, from the mayor’s office for three more weeks, mentioning the internship and trips. On April 28, West sent Brock Stewart an e-mail from the mayor’s office with internship in its subject line, asking, “You still interested?”

Did the newspaper invade West’s privacy?

West contends it did and has threatened to file a lawsuit after the recall. The newspaper does not believe such a claim would succeed because there is no guarantee of privacy for the Internet communications he used. Gay.com warns members they are not guaranteed privacy, as does AOL Instant Messaging, another form of communication West used with Moto-Brock.

Did the newspaper “out” West?

West has called the initial stories a “brutal outing.” His sexual orientation, which he has variously described as homosexual or bisexual, was not general knowledge among voters or even among his political colleagues before the stories were published. The newspaper has insisted, however, that the stories were not about whether West was homosexual or heterosexual, but his conduct as an elected official. If West had been involved in the same kind of documented activity with young women rather than young men, the stories still would have been published.

OTHER CONTACTS

Is this an isolated instance involving West and Moto-Brock?

It is the only one mentioned on the recall ballot, but not the only one reported by the newspaper in its efforts to show whether this was a pattern of behavior for West.

After The Spokesman-Review reported West’s activities with Moto-Brock, other men contacted the newspaper to recount similar experiences. One of them, Ryan Oelrich, said he had met someone on Gay.com who used the screen names West used. He didn’t know it was West at the time, or when West appointed him to the city Human Rights Commission in April 2004. After the appointment, Oelrich said, West made sexually explicit online advances and offered him $300 to swim naked with him. Another man, who asked to remain anonymous because his family doesn’t know he is gay, said West offered him a city job; when the second man said he wasn’t qualified, West said he’d be qualified “if I was a friend of the mayor.”

Why aren’t those events part of the recall ballot?

The recall petition was not written by the newspaper. It comes from one of three charges initially drafted by a local citizen, Shannon Sullivan, revised by the Spokane County attorney’s office, and made the subject of a Superior Court hearing in which West’s attorneys argued all three of the charges were not sufficient to warrant a recall. Judge Craig Matheson agreed that two of the three charges, which covered a greater period of time, did not have sufficient information to warrant a recall; the one regarding the conversations between West and the newspaper’s computer expert did have enough information. Matheson then rewrote that charge to include more details about West’s contacts with the expert. West appealed, but the state Supreme Court eventually upheld Matheson.

Has West been charged with any crime?

No. Some of the allegations reported by the newspaper involve reports by adults who say they were sexually molested as boys by West more than 25 years ago when West was a Boy Scout leader and sheriff’s deputy. West has categorically denied the allegations, some of which are contained in court documents connected to a separate civil lawsuit against Spokane County. That lawsuit against the county is scheduled to go to trial next spring, and West is on the witness list but has not been deposed. No criminal charges can be filed on those allegations because they are far beyond the statute of limitations.

West is under investigation by the FBI, which in July seized his computers. That inquiry apparently is continuing, but the FBI does not comment on ongoing investigations, so it’s not possible to say what the likely outcome will be.

What is the status of the city’s investigation?

The City Council hired Bellevue attorney Mark Busto in September to determine if West violated his oath of office or city policies. On Friday, Busto delivered an investigative report concluding that West violated the city’s Internet policy by accessing pornographic information with a city computer. Busto also determined that West violated state law by using his public office to secure a position for Ryan Oelrich on the city’s human rights commission for the purpose of having an intimate relationship with Oelrich.

The city’s first attempt at an investigation fell apart after questions arose over the members of a commission appointed by then-city attorney Mike Connelly. Members of the City Council questioned the legality of the commission and its independence, The Spokesman-Review questioned whether the panel could hold secret meetings, former Councilman Steve Eugster filed suit to block any proceedings, and members of the commission began to withdraw, saying they didn’t want their integrity questioned or to face possible legal action.

Eventually the council hired Busto, who was delayed in completing his investigation by West’s opposition to the release of his computer files.

Is the city paying West’s legal fees?

City attorneys have been involved in representing city decisions in legal proceedings, but West’s challenge of the recall language and the release of his computer files are handled by his team of private attorneys. On state campaign records, West lists unpaid debts of at least $85,000 to his legal team.

If West hasn’t been charged with a crime, doesn’t the recall violate his right to be innocent until proven guilty?

West contends that is the case in his response to the recall, and in his legal challenge to it. The state Supreme Court, which upheld the recall in an 8-1 vote, took a different view of what is usually called the right to due process. According to the court’s majority decision, the recall is West’s due process because the voters act as the “finders of fact,” which is the job of a jury in a trial.

THE STATE OF THE CITY

Is the city making great progress, as West says in his response to the recall?

West is correct that he did bring closure to the River Park Square controversy, a problem he inherited from previous mayors and city councils who tried a range of unsuccessful strategies. Under his direction, the city changed strategy in the lawsuit, bought out investors who were suing the city and others involved in the downtown garage, and then negotiated settlements with its former co-defendants. That solution did end many lawsuits in federal and state court, and secured federal funds for low-income projects that had been put in jeopardy by the litigation. But the solution is not without its critics. Councilwoman Cherie Rodgers points out that the city will be paying off the bonds it sold to make the settlement with investors for 20 years.

City voters did approve a $117 million street bond issue, which West pushed last year, and the first round of street improvements were completed this year. They also approved a two-year increase to their property taxes in this month’s general election. But West and other city officials agree that’s a short-term fix, and changes need to be made in city operations because costs continue to grow faster than revenue, a situation that was true before he became mayor. The city has laid off employees in budget cuts for several years, dropping 30 positions in 2000, 50 in 2002 and 100 last year.

West and other city officials are trying to lower employee costs through negotiations with its unions, and the leaders of its largest union, Local 270, have tentatively agreed to some reductions in exchange for a contract extension.

Did the newspaper target West because of the River Park Square litigation?

West has never claimed this, and the newspaper’s editor and publisher have denied any connection between the two stories. The newspaper is owned by Cowles Publishing Co., which has other affiliates that own the mall and had long-standing disagreements with the city over the garage. West achieved a negotiated settlement, which mall owners had long said was preferable to a trial. Some critics of the settlement said the developer got too much and the city too little, but no one is on record as saying the city got too much and the developer too little.

The reporters who wrote the initial stories about West had no part in covering River Park Square, although the author of this story has been involved in aspects of both.

Why did the newspaper endorse West in his 2003 run for mayor if it had information about him it was investigating?

The newspaper’s editorial board, which decides endorsements and writes editorials, is separate from its news operation with the exception of Editor Steven A. Smith, who serves on the board and oversees the newsroom.

The allegations against West were unconfirmed and preliminary in 2003 – the final confirmation by reporters didn’t occur until April 2005 – and no one on the editorial board except Smith knew about it. Smith did not take part in that endorsement decision, which supported West over Tom Grant, a former television and weekly newspaper reporter.

The newspaper had endorsed West in many of his previous campaigns.

Is the city receiving national recognition for its accomplishments?

Yes, although some of the recognition comes in part from work that started before West became mayor. Some business groups have also expressed concern that it has received negative national publicity from the allegations surrounding West, both from the national news stories – he agreed to an interview with Matt Lauer on the Today Show – and from references in comedy monologues on the Tonight Show and The Daily Show.

CITY CHARTER ISSUES

Could the city council remove West because its investigation revealed improper activity?

No. The city charter has no provision for impeachment or any other method to remove a mayor from office. A mayor remains in office unless he or she dies, resigns or is recalled.

In May, the council unanimously called for West to resign, as did the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce, the regional Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Economic Development Council and the County Republican Party – his political affiliation during some 20 years in the Legislature. West refused all requests to step down, saying he would do the job voters elected him to do. His attorneys also said he was staying in office in part to defend himself “in the court of public opinion.” In a June press conference, West said, “If the voters say Jim West should go, Jim West will gracefully go.”

Are any of the groups that called for West to resign supporting the recall?

Neither the business groups nor the local GOP have contributed to the recall campaign or to West’s campaign. Individual members of the business community have contributed to both sides; two of West’s former Senate colleagues – on Democrat and one Republican – have contributed to West, as have some Olympia lobbyists, including one who lobbies for the city on its issues.

Has a Spokane mayor ever been recalled?

The city has had several different forms of municipal government, and for about 50 years the voters did not pick the mayor. During the times when mayors were elected directly by voters, none has faced recall.

AFTER DEC. 6

What happens if voters reject the recall?

West remains in office as mayor. Any investigations still under way would continue.

What happens if voters approve the recall?

When the election results are certified on Dec. 16, West would cease to be mayor and Council President Dennis Hession, who under the city charter is the mayor pro tem, would hold that office until the council voted to appoint a successor to serve out the rest of West’s term. Hession would not be a member of the council during that time.

The council can select Hession, one of its other members, or any other city resident who has lived in the city for at least one year. The council has no set procedure for selecting a replacement mayor, but its legal adviser suggests it could follow the procedure for filling a vacancy on the council, which would involve taking applications, interviewing applicants and voting.

If the council selects Hession to fill the remainder of West’s term, it would then have to select a replacement for council president, and if that is a sitting councilmember, a replacement for the council from that member’s district. Investigations would also continue.


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