After a panel of legal experts and scholars resigned, the Spokane City Council voted to take over an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse of power against Mayor James E. West.
SPOKANE – After a panel of legal experts and scholars resigned, the Spokane City Council voted to take over an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse of power against Mayor James E. West.
The unanimous 7-0 vote came after the fifth and final member of an independent commission resigned Monday, saying “Spokane continues to burn while the mayor fiddles.”
The council, which previously voted to ask West to resign, will hire a lawyer or human resources expert to review whether the mayor’s hiring practices and use of e-mail to seek personal relationships violated city policies. West, a former Republican majority leader in the state Senate, has repeatedly denied any illegal conduct.
Council President Dennis Hession acknowledged that the findings will have little effect — West can only be removed from office through recall — but said the review is important for public confidence.
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“To me, it’s about the process of going through this exercise and not about the results,” he said during the council meeting Monday.
The council’s report will be submitted to the city’s human resources department, which handles personnel matters.
The five member panel of two retired judges, two college professors and an attorney investigating West dissolved Monday after lawyer Nancy Isserlis became the final member to resign.
The panel had been appointed by City Attorney Mike Connelly, who subsequently resigned to take a similar job with Spokane Valley.
Connelly, who worked for the mayor, seized West’s computer and computer files after The Spokesman-Review newspaper began publishing a series of articles in early May alleging the mayor offered internships to young men he met in a gay online chat room.
West is the subject of a recall attempt that is before the state Supreme Court, and the FBI has confirmed it is conducting an investigation into whether the mayor’s activities violated federal laws.
The resolution adopted by the council Monday is not limited to just the issues of whether West violated city computer use and hiring policies.
The newspaper outed West as a closeted homosexual who used his city e-mail to offer an internship to a man he believed was a high school student, but who was actually a computer expert hired to confirm that West was seeking dates online.
The newspaper investigation also included allegations by two men that West molested them when they were boys in the late 1970s. West has strongly denied those accusations.
The independent panel appointed by Connelly met twice, but dissolved before it could begin reviewing 13,000 pages of mayoral e-mail.
Isserlis, a Spokane private attorney, submitted her resignation in a letter to Hession. The four others appointed by Connelly already had resigned from the commission, which is the subject of a court challenge over its authority.
“The well-intended effort by the city attorney to address the issues presented by Mayor West’s admitted behavior has been derailed by the resignation of four members of the panel, primarily due to uncertainties created by some in the media before the panel could even actually convene and settle on the scope of work,” Isserlis wrote.