City Council Engulfed In Spite, Squabbles
Alleged death threats. Personal jibes. Filibusters.
Politics in Spokane marches to a different tune now and - along the way - it’s getting ugly.
The past two weeks at City Hall have witnessed red-faced council members, disrupted meetings, heated allegations.
One councilman calls his colleagues a collective “disgrace.” A councilwoman accuses a fellow member of threatening her life. Another council member takes a poke at a colleague’s credit rating.
For at least five of the council members, it’s clear who’s causing all the tension and commotion.
“It lies in Chris’ ballpark,” says Councilman Joel Crosby, referring to colleague Chris Anderson, who’s been a party to nearly every dispute. “He’s declared war on the council.”
Anderson doesn’t shirk the blame.
“I will remain controversial if controversial means asking questions other people are uncomfortable asking,” he says. “It’s very much like the birthing process. It’s painful. It’s uncomfortable.
“But the end result is new life.”
To several colleagues, Anderson’s vision of new life means time wasted arguing and meetings that leave everyone exhausted.
“It’s a real frustration,” says Councilwoman Bev Numbers. “The energy that it takes, the stamina you have to put into this job.
“It taxes your productivity.”
Anderson insists he’s staying true to his campaign promises. “I stand true to the platform on which I ran,” he says. “I did not run for office to be part of the status quo.”
In spite of the rancor, members say they’re devoted to sticking to their goals and getting business done.
“You’ll always have folks looking for flaws and perceived failings,” says Councilwoman Phyllis Holmes. “We intend to get our work done no matter what.”
Councilman Orville Barnes agrees.
“I don’t think it’s hurting business. It proceeds along just fine,” he says. “It just means it’s more uncomfortable.”
“Six of the members are going on about their business,” Crosby says. “The question is, ‘What’s Chris going to do?”’
Anderson - who says he’s been an outsider since the beginning - points out that recent events have merely amplified the differences.
Those flashpoints include:
During a regular council meeting two weeks ago, Mayor Jack Geraghty called a 15-minute break after Anderson leveled conflict-of-interest charges against Park Board President Dennis Hession.
Council members engaged in several minutes of heated debate when Anderson questioned Hession’s role in a proposal to bring the Pacific Science Center to Riverfront Park’s Pavilion.
City Attorney James Sloane last week gave his opinion that the charges against Hession are not valid.
A briefing last week erupted into a nasty scene when Holmes asked who would pay for a coming “citizen’s retreat” sponsored by Anderson.
Crosby demanded someone pay the bill up front, in cash.
Anderson shot back that Crosby couldn’t embarrass him by taking a jibe at his “credit rating and past bankruptcy filing.”
The briefing was adjourned after the council voted 6-1 to have the retreat committee immediately pay the $285 bill.
During the regular meeting, things bubbled over after Anderson related the council decision. He called his colleagues a “public disgrace” and a “despicable group.”
“We have only begun to fight,” Anderson said, adding that the public should remember the Sylvester Stallone movie “First Blood.” He didn’t explain what he meant.
Numbers considered the inference a death threat, telling Anderson she would “take the necessary steps to ensure my safety.”
Numbers says she still considers Anderson’s comment a threat to her life.
“I’m a little bit of a blood-and-guts nut,” she says. “I’ve seen ‘First Blood’ several times. I thought, ‘This guy’s off the deep end.”’
She since has lodged a complaint with City Manager Roger Crum.
Crum says the complaint merely puts his office on alert that a council member feels threatened.
Anderson scoffs at Numbers’ feelings. He says his comment referred to the movie’s symbolic message - “a wronged man fighting the system - and winning.”
Some council members say they wish Geraghty would do more to control meetings before they slide into personal attacks and disputes.
“It’s his responsibility,” Barnes says. “He’s the one who’s in charge by the fact he’s the mayor.”
Geraghty doesn’t think it’s his role “to be the baby sitter for a bunch of elected officials. I’m very concerned about the fact we have this tension.
“The only way to get rid of it is to sit down and talk.”
Holmes and Numbers already are working on a plan to develop new rules and procedures for council behavior, starting with forming a citizen panel to help write a “code of conduct.”
“That’s sorely missing right now,” Holmes says.
Anderson says, despite his colleagues’ handing out failing grades for his style, his message reaches the public. “My support base is growing rather than diminishing,” he says.
He won’t promise to put an end to the squabbling. He says he’ll do what’s best for his constituents.
“I would suggest that if some members of the council spent as much time listening to the public as trying to discredit me, all of us would be a lot better off,” he adds.