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Spokane mayor takes leave amid new allegations

Spokane mayor takes leave amid new allegations

Spokane mayor takes leave amid new allegations

Citing what he called persecution and hysteria, Spokane, Wash., mayor Jim West says he's taking a few weeks off to defend himself against allegations of child molestation and new claims that he offered city jobs to men he met online. Shortly after West announced Monday that he would take a leave of absence, The Spokesman-Review posted a new story on its Web page alleging that the mayor offered city jobs to two young men he met through a gay Internet chat room--and that one of them briefly accepted a city appointment. The newspaper last week launched a series of articles about West, a conservative Republican who has opposed gay rights. It said it hired a computer forensics expert to pose as an 18-year-old male high school student in Internet chats with West on West offered the "teen" a City Hall internship, tickets to professional sporting events, and other gifts, the newspaper reported. In Monday's account, Ryan Oelrich, an openly gay 24-year-old, told the paper he accepted West's appointment to the city's Human Rights Commission in April 2004. He suspected a man he had chatted with online at was West, but he didn't find out until after he was hired, Oelrich said Tuesday. Oelrich said he had initially thought West was appointing him to the commission because of his background as director of the nonprofit Gay Youth Association. He also owns a business that makes balloon sculptures for entertainment and other events. "At first my thought was, I'm here, I might as well do the best I can," he said. "But as time progressed and I had further interactions with the mayor, I had a feeling in back of my mind...What if anybody found out? How stupid would I look. I don't want to be a person who obtained a position because someone was romantically interested in me." Oelrich said Tuesday that he thinks West is being unfairly maligned but should resign. Oelrich told the newspaper he knows of "five or six other young gay men that Jim West has met online and offered City Hall jobs." The newspaper said another man, who is 25 and spoke on condition of anonymity, said West, who is divorced, offered him a job as the city's human resources director and then a post as the city's aquatics director. The man said he rejected both offers. Calls placed late Monday to the mayor's office and to city attorney Mike Connelly seeking comment on the latest allegations were not immediately returned. City officials had earlier seized West's City Hall computer for an investigation into whether he used it improperly. "The current news media hysteria is distracting to the business of the city and is occupying a great deal of my time," West told the city council on Monday afternoon. He said he would take his first vacation since taking office in January 2004 to prepare a response to the newspaper's allegations. He told the council that Deputy Mayor Jack Lynch would lead the city in his absence. "I hope that you and the people will reserve judgment on me until the newspaper is done persecuting me and allow me to have the fair opportunity to respond to each of the allegations in due time," West said. West, a 54-year-old former Washington State senate leader, last week denied the decades-old molestation allegations but acknowledged that he had visited the gay online chat room and had relations with adult men. In the series it began publishing last Thursday, The Spokesman-Review reported allegations that West had abused two boys while he was a sheriff's deputy and Boy Scout leader in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The statute of limitations has expired on those old allegations, and no criminal investigations were under way in connection with them, local law enforcement agencies said. Also on Monday, a Spokane woman filed paperwork to recall the mayor. If the petition's wording is approved by a judge, recall supporters would have to gather more than 12,500 signatures to place the issue on the ballot. The Spokesman-Review and The Seattle Times have called for West to step down, as did the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. (AP)

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