City council could move to oust Mayor Ed Murray

In light of a Sunday report by the Seattle Times that an Oregon child-welfare investigator in 1984 concluded Mayor Ed Murray likely molested his foster son while living in Portland, City Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez is asking the mayor to consider resigning. She is also asking the council to consider whether it needs to take action to remove Murray in order to maintain public confidence in city government.

The Seattle Times reported the caseworker assigned to investigate sexual-abuse claims by Murray’s then-foster son, Jeff Simpson, found those allegations to be true. Because of Simpson’s troubled history and emotional instability, Deputy District Attorney Mary Tomlinson withdrew a criminal case against Murray, according to the Times.

Simpson’s allegations were brought to light by the Times in April, when Kent resident Delvonn Heckard made similar claims in a sexual-abuse lawsuit, which he withdrew in June, after Murray announced he would not run for re-election. The mayor had briefly considered running as a write-in candidate.

Following publication of the article on Sunday, Murray issued a statement again denying the allegations of sexual abuse.

“More than thirty years ago, Jeff made an accusation against me — and, contrary to what he had previously told the Times and other local media, against another foster parent,” a portion of Murray’s statement reads. “Those accusations were fully investigated at the time, and the District Attorney decided there was too much doubt to go forward with a case against me or the other foster parent. In fact, after examining the hundreds of pages of documents generated by the investigation, the District Attorney actually withdrew the case from the Grand Jury.”

Gonzalez issued a statement on Monday, which thanks Murray for his leadership in the city, but states her concern about the mayor’s ability to continue to do so since these documents were released.

“While the caseworker’s report is not proof of criminal guilt,” part of Gonzalez’s statement reads, “the gravity of the materials in the findings and the continued attention these issues will receive, raise questions about the ability of the Mayor, his office, his Department heads and senior management to remain focused on the critical issues facing our city.”

Gonzalez is asking the mayor to consider resigning, and to work with the council to create an “Executive Leadership Transition Strategy.”

If Murray does not resign by Monday, July 24, Gonzalez proposes the council convene a committee to determine if his removal and replacement is warranted.

Gonzalez provided the Seattle City Council with an advanced copy of her statement, and addressed her concerns about the recently released Oregon Child Protective Services report during a council briefing on Monday.

“I had the opportunity to read through every single one of those pages,” she said of the report, “and talk to the mayor and talk with other folks within the community.”

She said she is committed to having a thorough conversation with the rest of the council about how to move forward and ensure the public’s confidence in its city leadership.

“I feel like I have to say publicly that it brings me no joy, in fact it brings me a lot of sadness, that we have to be having this conversation to begin with,” she said.

Councilmember Sally Bagshaw said she’d wanted to address the matter off camera.

“These are very serious charges, no question about that,” Bagshaw said, “but as a former prosecuting attorney, like Councilmember Gonzalez, we know that facts matter, and the allegations that are in the newspaper yesterday, I just want to point out again that these are 30 years old, and I want to avoid grandstanding on this …”

She pointed out that the council, under the law, may only remove the mayor for willful violation of duty or for commissioning an offense involving moral turpitude.

“At this point, I would just like to give the mayor some space to work through this, and for us to acknowledge our responsibility,” Bagshaw said.

Council president Bruce Harrell agreed that strong leadership is needed, but was unsure deciding the mayor’s ouster was an avenue the council should explore. He added the allegations go back 33 years ago, and in another state, “which is a tall glass of water, by the way.”

Harrell said Murray shows up “to his job every single day,” and there is a short window to act, since Murray will not be seeking re-election.

Councilmember Debora Juarez said she’s been an attorney for 31 years, and also is a survivor of sexual assault from when she was in foster care.

“I think what troubles me the most is some people are quick to be a judge and a jury,” Juarez said, “and that’s not why we’re here.”

The city council is seeking legal counsel to determine what options it may exercise, and whether it is even possible to remove the mayor. That discussion is expected to take place next week.