Spokane Mayor to Take Leave Amid Child Sex Abuse Accusations

Embattled Mayor James West (search) said Monday he will take a leave of absence for a "few weeks" to prepare to defend himself against a newspaper's allegations of child molestation and that he offered city jobs to men he met online.

West told the City Council that the molestation allegations reported in The Spokesman-Review last week were false and that he would take his first vacation since taking office in January 2004 to prepare a response.

"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 at the beginning of the council meeting.

He left without taking questions.

An hour after West's announcement, the paper posted a new story on its Web site alleging West 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.

Ryan Oelrich (search), an openly gay 24-year-old, told the paper he accepted West's appointment to the city's Human Rights Commission in April 2004 after meeting West online at Gay.com.

Oelrich said he resigned from the commission in January after West "hounded me for months, telling me I was cute and asking me out on dates." Oelrich said he refused the mayor's advances, the newspaper reported.

The newspaper said another man, who is 25 and spoke on condition of anonymity, said West offered him a job as the city's human resources director, but the man said he was not qualified.

When he rejected the human resources job offer, the man said West offered him a job as aquatics director, overseeing operations at the city's swimming pools, the newspaper reported. The man did not accept that job either.

Calls placed Monday to the mayor's office and City Attorney Mike Connelly seeking comment on the latest allegations were not immediately returned.

The newspaper on Thursday published a series of reports that West had been accused of abusing boys while he was a sheriff's deputy and Boy Scout leader in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

West, a former Republican state Senate leader and staunch opponent of gay rights, denied those allegations, but subsequently acknowledged that he had visited the gay online chat room and had relations with adult men.

The articles resulted in a number of calls for West to resign.

Earlier Monday, city officials seized West's City Hall computer for an investigation into whether he improperly used it to visit gay chat rooms. Connelly said the computer's contents had been "frozen."

West has acknowledged offering autographed sports memorabilia and a possible City Hall internship to someone he thought was an 18-year-old man in a chat room. The man was actually a computer expert hired by The Spokesman-Review as part of a journalism sting operation.

West also disputed a story in Sunday's newspaper that quoted a city councilwoman as saying he told her that he had masturbated in his office. West said he was at home, not in his office, when the simulated online sex occurred, the newspaper reported.

The newspaper also reported Monday that West expected more allegations of sex abuse to surface. During a phone call with the mayor, editor Steven Smith asked West if other men claiming to be abuse victims were likely to come forward.

"Probably so," he said West replied.

The Spokesman-Review has called for West's resignation, saying in an editorial Sunday that he can no longer govern effectively. The Seattle Times also called for West to step down, as did a national gay advocacy organization.

"This man — whether he's straight, bisexual, or gay — deserves nothing but scorn," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (search) in Washington, D.C. "He needs to resign immediately."

Meanwhile, a Spokane woman filed paperwork with the county auditor 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.