Two key business organizations on Monday urged embattled Spokane Mayor Jim West to step down, while City Council members launched a move that could lead to sanctions against the mayor.
A leading Spokane Republican said the party locally appears to be leaning toward a call for resignation.
“To the extent that those (allegations) are true and that he can’t respond, I don’t see the Republican Party doing anything other than asking him to resign,” said state Sen. Brad Benson, a Republican who won election to West’s former Senate seat last fall.
West, who served in the Legislature as a Republican before winning the nonpartisan mayor’s post last year, issued his first public comments on Monday since taking a self-imposed leave this month to prepare a defense against allegations that he had used his office to solicit dates with young men he met on Gay.com. Again, the mayor denied any wrongdoing, including accusations by two men that West had molested them in the 1970s when West was a deputy sheriff and Boy Scout leader.
West apologized to citizens of Spokane for using poor judgment in his private life while mayor.
Business leaders said Monday the city is being harmed by the controversy.
Anthony Bonanzino, chairman of the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce and chief executive officer of Hollister-Stier Laboratories, read a statement that concluded: “There are over 50 CEOs on the chamber and Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau boards, and they’ve told us they would not have their jobs today if they had done what Jim West has already admitted to doing.
“We believe the community needs a new CEO,” he said.
Area business leaders met with West several times over the past two weeks in the wake of an investigation by The Spokesman-Review that first appeared on May 5.
Those meetings produced no solution to what chamber President and CEO Rich Hadley said is a perception of Spokane that jeopardizes gains the community has made in the last two years.
Hadley said the chamber’s board last week voted nearly unanimously to ask West to step down. The CVB board also met last week and came to the same conclusion, said Harry Sladich, the new CEO of that organization.
On Monday morning, representatives of both groups met with West and asked him to resign. He refused, according to Hadley.
Hadley said negative publicity surrounding West has forced Spokane’s business and government leaders to defend the community, instead of focusing on positive news from recent years, including $1.5 billion in downtown development and a recent ranking in Inc. magazine as a good place to do business.
The pro-Spokane message that business groups have been carrying to federal and state officials has now been “diluted,” as the national media focuses on the West controversy, Hadley said.
“We need to stay on point with our mission to keep our area growing. We can’t afford to be answering questions instead of advocating for the community,” Hadley said.
Hadley, West and other community representatives went to Washington, D.C., several weeks ago to push requests for funding for transportation, water-quality and defense projects. The trip came a week before the newspaper published its investigation.
The chamber’s lobbyist reported that the mayor’s difficulties since that trip have undermined his economic development agenda, Hadley said after the morning announcement.
“Our representative there said that in the heat of the appropriation process, which they’re in right now, this (controversy) is taking him off message when he walks into offices there,” Hadley said.
Hadley said he expected West to insist he has the right to serve out his term.
“We also have the right to speak up on behalf of the community,” Hadley added. “We need a city leader that we can respect and trust.”
City Council members on Monday said they will propose a city charter amendment giving them power to bring disciplinary action against the mayor, including possible removal from office.
Councilman Al French said the charter amendment, which has not been written, could go on the ballot this November. Council President Dennis Hession said the council might move to take action against West if voters adopt the amendment, but French said it may be possible to apply a charter change retroactively.
A vote on the resolution is expected next Tuesday.
City Attorney Mike Connelly said he’s researching whether a charter amendment could be applied to West.
Councilwoman Cherie Rodgers said a resolution she is sponsoring calling for the mayor’s resignation also is scheduled for a vote next Tuesday.
An investigation by The Spokesman-Review showed that as mayor, West offered gifts, favors and jobs to young men he met on Gay.com.
West gave his statement to the media one hour after the Chamber of Commerce and CVB held their news conference to call for West’s resignation.
“When all investigations are concluded, I expect to be exonerated,” West said from just outside his office at City Hall. “The people elected me to serve as their mayor, and I intend to serve out the remainder of my term.”
“As mayor, citizens expect me to lead by example – in both my public and my private life,” he said. “At times, I have exercised poor judgment in my private life.”
In his speech, West highlighted the city’s accomplishments during his tenure, including the settlement of the River Park Square controversy, balancing the budget and launching a plan to fix city streets.
West also said he’s received hundreds of messages of support and said he hadn’t violated any city policies during his online chats.
“I have not used the Internet inappropriately while in City Hall or on city time, and I have not used the city e-mail system inappropriately,” he said.
The newspaper investigation showed that his office e-mail address was used to offer a City Hall internship to a computer expert hired by the newspaper to confirm that West was seeking dates over the Web. West engaged the expert – who identified himself as a 17-year-old high school student who turned 18 during their correspondence – in conversation and eventually identified himself as the mayor and offered the internship.
West did not explain what he meant by “poor judgment” and left without taking questions from reporters. He did not comment on the business organizations’ calls for his resignation.
Benson said local Republican leaders have been discussing what to do about West.
“I think probably they’re leaning toward asking him to resign, but the consensus was, ‘Let’s at least give him a chance to respond before we do anything formal,’ ” Benson said Monday. Benson also said the party probably has no more “sway over Jim than the chamber.”
Spokane County Republican Chairman Mike Casey was reportedly on a trip Monday and couldn’t be reached for comment. Efforts to interview vice chair Nancy Mortlock were also unsuccessful.
State GOP Chairman Chris Vance said he’s discussed the situation “constantly” with Casey, but wouldn’t elaborate. Vance said he hasn’t spoken to West since the story broke.
“This is between Jim West and the people of Spokane,” Vance said. “We’re going to sort of follow the lead of the local party.”
Two political science professors said Monday that West may be able to hold onto the office but predicted that the scandal will hurt his ability to run the city.
“I think he can hang on,” said Lance LeLoup, at Washington State University. “It could take months and years for the wheels of justice to force him out of office.
“Can he maintain his effectiveness? I think the answer is no. He’s obviously past the point of no return on that,” said LeLoup. “It would be tough to regain his credibility, effectiveness or legitimacy. There’s just too much damage.”
“He’s just a different person in everyone’s mind, whether the investigation finds anything or not,” said Todd Donovan, at Western Washington University. “That’s not going to blow over.”
“I think politically he’s dead,” said LeLoup.
Donovan said, “This is why you would maybe want a reasonably accessible recall process. There’s really not any way you can get him to resign. The city’s kind of at the mercy of his (West’s) decision. It’s a really odd situation.”
A recall petition filed by a North Side woman is now being processed by the Spokane County prosecuting attorney’s office and is likely to go before a judge in early June for a hearing on whether the charges are sufficient to warrant a recall petition drive and potential election, officials said.
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