Three Spokane business groups urged Mayor Jim West on Monday to skip any legal appeal of the recall effort he faces and let the voters decide whether he should stay in office.
The Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Spokane Area Economic Development Council and the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau sent West a letter Monday urging him to use the recall effort as the public forum he has requested to clear his name of allegations involving sexual assault and misuse of his office.
“Today we ask you to honor your word by allowing the voters to express their opinion in the electoral process,” a group of chairmen and chief executive officers of the groups wrote. “While not perfect, the recall process will allow people to hear and consider your perspective and vote on whether you should continue in office.”
West’s attorneys responded with a statement that the business groups’ request is premature.
“Before making any decision regarding an appeal, we plan to review the recall hearing transcript and assess whether the judge’s decision and his preparation of the ballot synopsis are consistent with the law and extend to Mayor West the same recall rights provided to others,” attorneys Bill Etter and Carl Oreskovich said in a news release.
Last week, a Superior Court judge ruled that one allegation contained in a proposed recall petition had sufficient information to proceed to the signature-gathering stage.
Craig Matheson, a visiting judge from the Tri-Cities, said recall sponsor Shannon Sullivan did present enough information about an allegation that West committed malfeasance by soliciting internships “for young men for his own personal uses” that the recall effort should go to the next step.
But West can appeal that ruling to the state Supreme Court, which will be out of session between July 1 and Sept. 12. If West appeals, recall supporters can’t start circulating petitions for signatures until the high court rules.
Even if the mayor were to lose his appeal, that challenge could delay a recall vote until 2006.
“We firmly believe that the sooner a full discussion of the issues and a public vote can occur, the better,” the business leaders wrote.
The letter, which was copied to all members of the City Council, was signed by chamber Chairman Tony Bonanzino and its CEO, Rich Hadley; development council Chairman Gary Livingston and its CEO, Jon Eliassen; and visitors bureau Chairman Jim Dean and its CEO, Harry Sladich.
In a series of investigative articles beginning May 5, The Spokesman-Review has reported that West is accused of sexually assaulting two youths in the 1970s when he was a scout leader, and that the mayor offered internships, appointments and gifts to young men he met on an Internet chat room.
West has strenuously denied that he assaulted the young scouts, but admitted to mistakes in his personal life, saying in an official statement on May 5: “I have visited a chat line on the Internet and had relations with adult men.”
After the first newspaper articles were published, West was asked to resign from the executive committee of the Inland Empire Council of the Boy Scouts and the board of directors of Morning Star Boys Ranch. More recently, he was removed from the Civic Theater’s board for missing three or more meetings, and from the board of “Bear Necessities,” a community art project that has placed more than 40 uniquely painted bears on downtown sidewalks.
In a written statement that didn’t mention West by name, City Council President Dennis Hession was named as “the new honorary co-chair” to serve with the other Bear Necessities co-chair, sculptor Dorothy Fowler.
“This project is impacting tourism and building on the momentum that has been established in revitalizing downtown Spokane,” Mike Forness, executive director of Ronald McDonald House, said in a written statement about the change at Bear Necessities.
The possible effects of the West allegations on tourism and economic development prompted the three business groups to call for him to resign as mayor nearly three weeks ago. That would allow the city to “move forward and have a city leader we can respect and trust,” the groups said.
The City Council and local and state Republicans – West’s party during more than 20 years in the Legislature – issued similar calls.
He refused. The voters, not the business community, elected him, West has said, and will of the voters should not be “overturned lightly.”
“In a recall, if the voters say Jim West should go, Jim West will gracefully go,” he said at the June 3 press conference.
Bonanzino said the best way for that to happen would be for West not to appeal Matheson’s decision and, if enough signatures are gathered, put the recall on the ballot in September. That would give West, and the community, an up or down vote.
“This is the opportunity for the people to speak,” he said. Delaying a recall for months through an appeal “would be extremely detrimental to the community.”
But West’s attorneys said the mayor just hasn’t decided yet on his course of action: “The mayor stands by his statement that he will abide by the results of a valid recall process and has the same recall rights as any elected official; no more, no less.”
Bonanzino said he hadn’t seen Matheson’s decision from last Monday but didn’t understand why West and his attorneys haven’t reached a decision.
“I’m a bit surprised that they haven’t gone through it already,” he said.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.