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investigating Spokane, Wash., mayor convenes

investigating Spokane, Wash., mayor convenes

A panel that will decide whether Spokane, Wash., mayor James West violated city policies in his dealings with young men he met in a gay chat room plans to read tens of thousands of pages of e-mail. Retired Spokane County superior court judge Harold "Pete" Clarke will chair the panel appointed by city attorney Mike Connelly. The committee, which met for an organizational session Friday, will report to the city council and deputy mayor. The panel is seeking a fifth member in the wake of Eastern Washington University professor Tom Trulove's decision not to serve for personal reasons. Last month The Spokesman-Review began publishing articles alleging that West had used his city-owned computer to enter a gay Internet chat room and offer City Hall jobs and perks to men he met there. The newspaper also reported allegations that West sexually abused two boys decades ago. West has also been accused of sexually harassing an openly gay man he recommended for a position on the city's Human Rights Commission. The mayor, who has denied sexually abusing boys and any wrongdoing in his internship programs but acknowledged having affairs with adult men, has refused calls to step down. West is also the subject of a separate Department of Justice inquiry into whether federal laws may have been broken. The city panel can review documents and interview employees to determine whether West committed acts or omissions through computer use or hiring practices that violated city policies or laws, Clarke said. Connelly told the committee members they will have access to e-mail from West's office as well as from other city administrators and himself. He gave the panel copies of city policies on computer use, e-mails, harassment, and discrimination. Connelly said there are about 12,000 mayoral e-mails, but media public records requests cover approximately 50,000-60,000 pages. The panel will go through thick binders containing copies of the same e-mails reporters are searching under public records requests. Besides Clarke, committee members include retired judge Philip Thompson, university professor Michael Stebbins, and private lawyer Nancy Isserlis. Stebbins and Isserlis were out of town but joined the panel by teleconference Friday. Members of the panel defended its authority. "We're here because the city attorney asked us to be part of an investigative panel," Clarke said as the meeting began. Connelly, who serves at the pleasure of the mayor, called the situation "delicate" and said threats of lawsuits have come from all sides, adding, however, "I think it's an appropriate course of action." Under the city's mayor-council charter, West is, essentially, a chief executive officer. He cannot be removed from office except by a recall vote. West's lawyers have said the mayor is still considering whether to file a state supreme court appeal of a judge's ruling that a recall can proceed to the signature-gathering stage. (AP)

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