One minute, she's a single mom, a florist, a relative nobody. The next minute, she's jobless, snubbed by the other mothers at her son's school. She's got photographers out on her front lawn, her face is all over the news and the media are calling her a criminal.
What did Shannon Sullivan do? Rob a bank? Fondle a kid?
Like many in Spokane, she was shocked at the findings of the Spokesman-Review's investigation into Mayor Jim West. She was outraged at the allegations that the mayor had abused the power of his office to troll for young men. So on May 9, she showed up at the Spokane County auditor's office to add her name to the petition to recall West from office.
"I'm sorry. I must have the wrong place; I'm looking for the recall petition," Sullivan recalls telling someone at the auditor's office. She says she expected to see a whole line of people waiting to sign the petition to remove the mayor. Not only was there no line; there was no petition. So she filed one herself. And then when her original petition was rejected last week (on a technicality), she filed another.
Still, she can't believe she's the only one working on a recall petition. "Does everyone just want to stick their head in the sand and pretend that this isn't happening?" she asks. "What the hell's wrong with that picture? It is happening."
She points to groups like the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Convention and Visitors Bureau, who called for the mayor's resignation on Monday but who didn't "put their money where their mouth is." Business leaders, local and state politicians, newspaper editorial boards and average citizens have all called for the mayor's resignation, but only Shannon Sullivan has actually done something about it.
In retrospect, that's hardly surprising. By filing a recall petition, Sullivan unwittingly stepped into a media feeding frenzy. She was plagued by photographers and reporters, who dredged up a four-year-old misdemeanor charge. "My past was brought out, which I didn't think was at all relevant," she says.
She was also fired from her job at a North Side flower shop, apparently due to her involvement with the West recall. And, she says, on her search for a new job, she claims she's encountered a litany of bogus "that position has just been filled" excuses. One woman, she says, actually told Sullivan that she was qualified but said she just didn't want any controversy surrounding her business. Sullivan thanked the woman for her frankness.
Support has diminished since the media got a hold of the story, but Sullivan's going to need all the help she can get. Right now, her petition for a recall is in the county prosecuting attorney's office. They have 15 days from the time the petition was submitted to make sure the paperwork is in order and whip out a 200-word ballot synopsis. The prosecuting attorney will then send it along to Spokane County superior court, which has 15 days to conduct a hearing, when they'll determine the sufficiency (not the truth) of the charges against West and correct any language in the synopsis.
It's here where the process could get hung up. If the superior court deems sufficient the charges in the petition, West has the option to appeal the decision to the state supreme court. That would derail the process indefinitely.
If West doesn't appeal, Sullivan will have the green light to begin gathering the 12,567 signatures necessary to get the recall on the ballot. She says that KGA, a talk radio station in Spokane, has offered to help set up remote locations for gathering signatures and that a few friends have promised to take petitions to work. She's still looking for more help.
Sullivan and her makeshift crew would have 180 days to garner a sufficient number of signatures (overshooting the necessary number is always a good idea, as one third of signatures are usually ruled out as invalid). If she did it in a week (extremely unlikely), then the petition might get through the county auditor's office in time for the Sept. 20 primary election. More likely, a successful petition would wind up on the Nov. 8 general election. If it takes all 180 days to gather enough signatures, a special election would be scheduled around 60 days after the petition was turned in, on a date selected by the auditor.
The auditor, Vicky Dalton, suspects that it's a tough road ahead for Shannon Sullivan. She says that recalls are meant to be "very difficult to perform" and that she's never seen one even make it to the petition-gathering stage.
Still, Sullivan is resolute. "I'll refile again and I'll refile again. I feel very strong about this, and my past is already out and I've already been unemployed. Apparently, in some shape or form, [God's] provided me with the time [for this]. I may be evicted or starved to death, but I have the time."
In the fight of his political life, Jim West has turned to some unlikely helpers. Jim Etter and Carl Oreskovich are both accomplished lawyers, but as Etter points out, neither have probably ever voted for West. "But we both believe strongly," Etter continues, "that he should have fundamental fairness and due process. Our job is to make sure he gets a fair shake."
Etter, an accomplished trial lawyer who has practiced here for 27 years, says it's a tough case; he usually gets to cross-examine the witness -- "that's when you can challenge the speculations and allegations," he says. But in the West case, there's no forum for the mayor to face his accusers. As a result, this one lands in the court of public opinion.
"This wouldn't be the first time that an individual is tried in the court of public opinion and then, months or years later, is found to have suffered an unjust result. Unless we're patient enough to get at the facts, then it's going to be allegations and speculations that determine the mayor's future."
Being "patient" is not how most citizens can be described right now, as they are eager for the mayor to answer the charges. Still, Etter declined to put any time frame on when that might happen. -- Ted S. McGregor Jr.
Publication date: 05/26/05