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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane city attorney leaving

Spokane City Attorney Mike Connelly said Monday he is resigning his position to take a newly created city attorney job in Spokane Valley, a job he described as “a great opportunity.”

His departure is the latest in a run of resignations under embattled Mayor Jim West, who finds himself in a deepening pool of personal, political and legal problems – and recurring crises in city finances.

Library Director Jan Sanders last week announced she is leaving her post to take another director job in California. She said the move will allow her to live closer to her daughter in California. But the move comes only months after library hours were slashed as part of ongoing city budget cuts. Sanders took over Spokane libraries in 2001. She was facing the prospect of additional cuts for 2006.

The mayor’s executive assistant, Melissa Murphy, has left the mayor’s side in recent weeks to return to graduate school. West said she plans to study for a master’s degree in business administration at Gonzaga University.

The staff changes come just as West has resumed chemotherapy for a recurrence of cancer that spread from his colon to his liver and was initially treated in 2003 prior to West’s run for mayor that fall.

Not the least of West’s problems is a recall drive being mounted in the wake of a sexual impropriety scandal that came to light during a series of investigative stories in The Spokesman-Review in May. The state Supreme Court on Aug. 24 will consider whether recall charges brought against West by a North Side woman are legally sufficient to allow signature gathering and a potential recall vote.

West has acknowledged using the Internet to seek relationships with young men, and the newspaper’s investigation showed that he sent city e-mail to one man offering him an internship. The man was actually a computer expert hired by The Spokesman-Review to confirm West’s online activities.

Connelly became city attorney in 2001 under former Mayor John Powers and was retained by West when he gained the mayor’s office at the start of 2004.

Connelly has been earning $107,000, and said on Monday he will be paid the same amount in his new post. It was not determined on Monday when Connelly would leave to take the new job.

While the mayor’s office is nonpartisan, West served as a Republican in the state Legislature for 21 years. Connelly in 1999 ran for the state House as a Democrat.

Despite their likely political differences, West opted for continuity in the city attorney’s office in keeping Connelly. But in doing so, West ordered Connelly not to be a spokesman for the mayor’s administration, which embarked on a strategy to resolve a long legal battle over the city’s participation in financing and reconstruction of River Park Square and its parking garage downtown.

Connelly followed West’s directive to work behind the scenes, and he maintained what appeared to be a good working relationship with the mayor.

When the sexual impropriety scandal became public, Connelly quickly seized the mayor’s computer and started an independent investigation into West’s possible violation of city policies. He sought to establish a five-member commission of community members to conduct an independent review, but the panel came under fire by City Council members, and the city was sued by former Councilman Steve Eugster over the legality of Connelly’s independent panel.

West did not object to Connelly starting the review.

Eventually, four of the five panel members resigned, some because of the lawsuit in which they were individually named as defendants.

Connelly said the problems encountered over the mayoral scandal and his attempt to have an independent review were not reasons for his departure, nor were budget pressures his office is facing.

He said there are always conflicts and stress. “That’s part of being a city attorney,” he said.

In Spokane, Connelly ran an office with a budget for 31 employees. The staff includes 11 attorneys and a city prosecutor’s office for misdemeanor cases.

In Spokane Valley, he will oversee one other lawyer in an operation that is limited to areas such as land use, planning and city contracts. Much of Spokane Valley’s services, including police, library, courts and fire protection, are provided by county agencies.

Connelly said he is excited about the opportunity to build a new city legal operation for Spokane Valley, and he said he is not concerned about grass-roots attempts to dissolve that city. Until now, Spokane Valley has hired outside legal representation.

“I had a great time representing the city, and I suspect I’ll have a great time representing the city of Spokane Valley,” he said.

West said he will likely choose one of Connelly’s assistants to act as interim city attorney before deciding on a replacement. He said he did not know whether he would seek the appointment from within the current staff.

West also said he is not replacing his executive assistant. Instead, he has promoted office receptionist Catherine English to the dual role of receptionist and assistant.

Karen Stratton recently joined the mayor’s office as his senior adviser in a job that was budgeted in 2005 at $61,000 a year. She has worked for Spokane’s community colleges, Washington State University, Metropolitan Mortgage and Securities Co. and the Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Council.

She replaces Cody George, who recently moved from the job of senior adviser to economic development adviser.

During Monday night’s City Council meeting, Jimmy Marks, a well known Gypsy leader, gave the city clerk a quart jar filled with what he said was “Jesus soup” and he asked that it be given to the mayor to help him in his recovery from cancer “so he can fight you guys harder.”

The soup stock was made in part from the boiled head of a salmon that Marks’ son had caught recently off the Washington coast, and is believed in Gypsy culture to have mystical powers related to the prayers of Gypsies and their antecedents.

Marks and members of his family sued the city and won a settlement in a civil rights claim stemming from police raids on two Gypsy homes in 1986. Anger over the case led to a Gypsy curse being placed on the city.

“The curse has worked well,” Marks declared.

He said he wondered if Connelly was pushed out of his job. “Who would want to leave the big Spokane to go to the little Spokane?” he asked.

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