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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Panel says West actions bad

The Spokane Human Rights Commission has ruled that Mayor Jim West behaved inappropriately and violated community mores when he appointed a young gay man to the human rights body and then pressured him for sex.

But the commission, whose chairman is a longtime West supporter, didn’t find that 24-year-old Ryan Oelrich was discriminated against and declined to call for West’s resignation, as Oelrich had requested in a complaint filed with the commission in May.

The question of West’s political fate “is more properly left to those investigative agencies already involved and those responsible for the governance of the City,” said commission chairman James P. Gotzian in the group’s written finding.

Gotzian, a retired stockbroker, was appointed by West to head the Human Rights Commission. He did not reply to a request for comment on Friday.

Oelrich said he’s disappointed with the commission’s finding because it didn’t call for West to step down as mayor and didn’t adequately address how he was treated by West.

“I didn’t want to bring this to them, but they urged me to. I thought the City Council and FBI should handle this. Now they’ve said this is better left to other agencies – which is what I told them in the first place,” Oelrich said.

A lawyer for West said the commission has no authority to rule on West’s conduct.

Under the city charter, the Human Rights Commission lacks any powers to adjudicate Oelrich’s complaint, said attorney Carl Oreskovich. There are no legally binding rules of evidence in hearings before the commission and Oelrich couldn’t be cross-examined, he said.

“We saw no legal reason to participate,” Oreskovich said.

Oelrich, an openly gay man, is the executive director of Quest Youth Services, a Spokane nonprofit agency serving gay, lesbian and bisexual youth. West appointed him to the human rights commission, an unpaid position, in April 2004.

Oelrich came forward after The Spokesman-Review reported in a series of stories starting on May 5 this year that West while serving as Spokane’s mayor had offered jobs, appointments and sports memorabilia to young men he met on a gay chat line. One of them was actually a forensic investigator hired by the newspaper to verify West’s presence on Gay.com.

On May 9, Oelrich told The Spokesman-Review that he initially met West on Gay.com, conversed with him further through an instant messaging service, and was then appointed to the human rights commission. Oelrich said he made it clear to West that he wasn’t interested in dating him.

But after his City Hall appointment, Oelrich said West continue to pursue him – even offering him $300 to swim naked with the mayor in a swimming pool.

Oelrich said he rejected West’s overtures and resigned from the human rights commission in January after deciding it would be unethical to continue in the post. He and several other young men have been interviewed by the FBI as part of a public corruption investigation of West prompted by the newspaper stories.

On May 24 and 25, Oelrich submitted personal testimony to the Human Rights Commission, including several online conversations with West he said he recorded.

Those captured transcripts proved persuasive to the commission.

“We find that your claim of inappropriate behavior by Mayor James E. West is supported by the data available. … We agree that the transcribed conversations demonstrate on the part of Mayor West a disregard for your personal requests to him, and a further disregard for the dignity of his office, disregard for the public view of human relations in the City of Spokane, and disregard for the mores of the community,” the commission said.

West also was asked to provide testimony, but did not do so at the advice of his attorneys, the commission said.

“At an appropriate time, if there’s a forum that’s available, we’ll present our case. This isn’t the appropriate forum,” West attorney Oreskovich replied.

The commission, established by then-Mayor Sheri Barnard in 1991, has as its goal “to promote and secure mutual understanding and respect” among all people, according to its mission statement. The commission also serves as an advisory board to the City Council.

Meanwhile, other investigations of West are moving forward.

The Spokane City Council recently hired its own investigator, Bellevue attorney Mark Busto, to look into West’s workplace conduct and computer use. The FBI has cloned a copy of the hard drive from West’s City Hall computer, and in early August seized three personal computers from his home.

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