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This Is No Joke 

by Robert Herold

Instead of taking a leave of absence, why doesn't Mayor Jim West just put a bag over his head and continue to come to work? Heck, he could even be the Grand Marshal of the Lilac Parade. A new cause perhaps: Mayor Jim West, Drawing Attention to the Plight of Bag People Everywhere.

These are bad jokes, in poor taste, but if this story continues on the way it is, we do run the risk of such locker room banter. I've been hearing it already.

Our boosters, of course, just want the issue to go away and, boy, are they nervous. What will people think? Maybe they won't notice? I mean how many people tune into CNN, anyway? Good Morning America? Who cares about that crummy show? And we all know that both the New York Times and Washington Post are elitist East Coast newspapers.

Bert Caldwell (head drum beater down at the Review) had a column that was particularly unhelpful. I especially like this line: "a responsible employer would provide counseling and other assistance before giving up on a worker whose performance has otherwise been exemplary."

One could name more than one Catholic bishop who must have uttered just this same line -- over and over again.

And don't you just love his comparison? Once again, we can learn from the private sector. Why didn't I think of this? Turns out that Ken Lay really just needed a little therapy.

Meanwhile, our intrepid City Council has, predictably enough, been floundering about. Cherie Rodgers and Mary Verner excepted, it was business as usual on Council night. Here they were, our leaders, one after another, making routine reports about their respective activities last week. Earth to Council: Business as usual? It's fairly side-splitting, don't you think? Conjures up images of members of an imaginary Honolulu City Council, the week after Pearl Harbor, sitting around on Council night reporting trips made to Wiameia Bay to open the surfing season, or traipsing off to the Big Island to attend a flower show.

Spokane might want to consider adopting a new city flag. How about a picture of a graveyard pictured under the banner: "Spokane: The Town That Whistles While It Dithers,"

Not to diminish the efforts of the Spokesman-Review, but permit me to fill in a little context that Steve Smith, editor of the Review, sort of just glossed over in his Sunday Op-Ed piece. Yes, as he acknowledged, the Spokesman-Review faces an uphill battle to restore its pre-River Park Square reputation. (And while he might not be clear on this, for many people, River Park Square did nothing more than reconfirm a reputation long held about the paper.) But just for the record: The public recalls that the Review denounced former Mayor John Talbott as a "civic terrorist" because he had the temerity to travel to Washington, D.C., to voice his opposition to the infamous HUD loan. And then there was the treatment that Mayor John Powers endured for three years, following his veto of the garage loan. The paper seemed to look for ways of caricaturing Powers rather than actually dealing in a straightforward manner with what the city's first strong mayor was or wasn't doing.

To the Review, it seemed Powers could do nothing right, yet, in fact -- and I do not mean to take anything away from West's until-now-demonstrable political skills -- it was Powers, not West, who put the city on the path to fiscal health. And it was Powers, not West, who appointed most of the senior administrators who today are rightly receiving much credit. And it was Powers' administration, not West's, that designed the strategy that eventually led to the resolution of the RPS case. But if you depended on the S-R for your impressions, you would know none of this. Powers was portrayed as a hyerbolic clown who thought we could sing our way out of poverty and who stood in the way of the preferred RPS solution.

And now we learn, courtesy of the S-R, that almost everyone "in the know" seemed to know about West for years. Indeed, the irony is that the while today reporting this fact as news, the paper fails to explain why that, surely, as a member of the "in the know" crowd, it did nothing more over the years but endorse West, time and again.

Alas, Smith's no doubt genuine disclaimers aside, it seems that the old beat goes on. He makes a major point about the necessity of his sting operation to avoid a "he said, he said" showdown. But then his folks go right out and run an unfiltered and unsubstantiated headline accusation made by Cherie Rodgers about what the mayor allegedly said about what sex acts were supposed to have gone on in the mayor's very office. No sting here, just "he said, she said" and let's run with it. Talk about business as usual.

Unless our boosters take a deep breath, and unless the Council exercises decisive leadership, and unless our paper of record shows an even greater willingness to lead a public dialogue that deals with a range of related questions and issues, I fear we will actually manage to turn some serious stuff -- even a tragedy -- into a fiasco where serious reflection is smothered by the kinds of jokes I shared earlier. And cynicism and ridicule would, again, rule Spokane.

Publication date: 05/12/05

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