A longtime Spokane city clerk has lost his job after an internal human resources investigation found he used public resources for campaign activities while his daughter competed for a Spokane Valley City Council seat.
Bob West, a 20-year city employee and also a member of the civilian oversight panel reviewing activities of the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, disputed that his internet searches on a public computer were conducted to campaign for his daughter, Spokane Valley City Councilwoman Brandi Peetz. He said his decision to accept a termination letter drafted by the city Dec. 26 is in an effort to retain his rights to appeal the determination.
“I did not do any campaigning at all,” West said.
But the letter, signed by City Administrator Theresa Sanders, concludes West violated a city policy prohibiting employees from using “positions, offices, facilities or public resources to attempt to persuade anyone else to participate in or contribute to a political campaign for elective office in the City or any other jurisdiction.”
West’s firing from City Hall took effect Jan. 2, according to the letter.
The city has not yet released the full details of the investigation, which was spurred by Caleb Collier’s release to City Hall of an unsigned letter implicating West in unfair election practices. West and Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said the probe was the continuation of a bitter contest in Spokane Valley between Collier and Peetz. That race has helped shift the panel toward a more centrist majority and drawn involvement from Collier’s outspoken right-wing political ally, state Rep. Matt Shea.
“This is just dirty politics. It’s been a dirty race, and it continues to be a dirty race,” Knezovich said.
West said he put in his retirement paperwork with the city and that he filed a grievance through Local 270, the union representing city employees. He acknowledged using Facebook and conducting other online research during lunch and other breaks while employed as a clerk in the city’s probation office, and some of those searches may have included Collier’s campaign website and other social media.
“Have I been on the computer at work? Absolutely,” West said.
West said he was monitoring the campaign websites out of concern for his family. In October, he filed a 57-page request for harassment protection from Scott Maclay, an outspoken critic of the sheriff’s office who has been tied to allegedly defamatory claims made by Shea about the sheriff’s office. West wrote that he believed harassment from Maclay, including Facebook messages campaigning for Collier and offering monetary rewards for those who “capture” Peetz or Knezovich, was tied to “my daughter running for Spokane Valley City Council.”
The petition includes dozens of screen-captured social media posts from Maclay, some of which target Peetz’s candidacy for Spokane Valley City Council. West said most of the work preparing the petition was done “at home.”
Collier said Maclay “had nothing to do with my campaign, and never did.” The harassment order was tossed as protected speech by a district court judge.
Collier said the letter from City Hall, which was shared with him and read aloud in a social media post by Shea on Monday night, made him “highly suspicious.”
“I’m going to follow it with great interest,” Collier said.
Collier was one of three Spokane Valley incumbents ousted by voters in the November election, losing to Peetz by 15 percentage points. The councilwoman on Tuesday distanced herself from the political upheaval.
“Anything that has to do with my father, and what all of these people are claiming, has nothing to do with me and my new position,” Peetz said.
West said he intended to remain on as vice chair of the Sheriff’s Citizen Advisory Board, and that his actions had nothing to do with his service on that board. West also rebuffed Shea, who said he would launch “a legislative investigation” into the firing in his video statement. Shea did not return a phone call requesting comment on what that investigation would entail.
“I would like nothing better than to go to Olympia and expose corruption,” West said.
Knezovich said he would look further into the details surrounding West’s termination from City Hall and leave it up to members of the Citizen’s Advisory Board to weigh in on whether he should be removed from the panel.
“All of this does not make Mr. Collier or Matt Shea look very good,” Knezovich said. “As of right now, I don’t see anything nefarious like they want to claim. I think when you’re dealing with somebody’s credibility and their reputation, you have to do your due diligence.”