October 5, 1995 in Nation/World

City Pays Anderson’s Jobless Check Taxpayers Pay Councilman’s Unemployment Benefits

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Spokane city taxpayers recently paid $460 in unemployment benefits to Councilman Chris Anderson.

In a few days, they’ll have to give another $460 to the man who fancies himself the most fiscally conservative council member.

It’s apparently the first time in anyone’s memory a paid, elective Spokane official picked up an unemployment check from the city.

Taxpayers’ money is going to Anderson even though he earns $18,000 a year for his council job.

No one appears more surprised - or confused - than Anderson, who filed for unemployment last April, two weeks after his full-time job with an Idaho company ended.

“It’s perplexing,” Anderson said. “I was surprised the city was being charged, especially since I’m still employed by the city.”

“It’s a first,” Pete Fortin, Spokane finance director, said of the city being asked to pay unemployment to an elected official.

Asked if he planned to reimburse the city, Anderson said he wouldn’t, adding he feels he’s entitled to the unemployment benefits just like anyone else. “Most people who claim unemployment have no idea where it comes from,” he said.

An assistant city attorney discovered a few days ago the city shouldn’t have to pay a share of Anderson’s unemployment benefits. That discovery came too late to stop taxpayers from paying Anderson $920.

The story goes like this: Anderson applied for unemployment in April. The forms ask the recipient to list all income received during the last period of full employment.

He put down his city salary and his Idaho salary.

The state began paying him $120 a week in unemployment. While his wages qualified him for full benefits - $350 a week - he was still employed part time as a council member, which reduced the size of the check.

Part-time workers can qualify for unemployment, said Wilma Jensen of the state Employment Security Department. The law is based on the theory that “it’s better to keep people at least working part time” than not working at all, she said.

Even though he still works for the city, it can get dinged for his unemployment, Jensen said.

Late last month, the city got a bill from the state for its share of unemployment benefits paid to former - and current - city employees. Anderson’s name was on that list.

Unlike most employers, the city doesn’t pay monthly state unemployment premiums for each worker. Instead, the city pays each time a city employee gets benefits.

It’s like being self-insured - taking the risk that most employees won’t collect, Jensen said.

The city paid its bill, only to learn a few days later that elected officials’ salaries are exempt from unemployment benefits. So, the city never should have been asked to pay anything toward Anderson’s unemployment.

Anderson states he’s an elected official on the unemployment form, but a state worker missed that fact when it processed his claim.

“It’s not as if I was trying to sneak anything by,” Anderson said.

The state bills the city quarterly for the unemployment. Because the error wasn’t discovered until a few days ago, the city again will have to make another $460 payment for this quarter.

“Until that adjustment is made, they’ll have to pay,” Jensen said.

Anderson said he just wants to get a full-time job and put this behind him.

Unemployment “is not something I look for, for the long term,” he said.

Anderson’s job search began in 1993, when he was laid off as a financial systems manager for Spokane County. A few months later, he took a job with Phoenix Mortgage and Investments but was let go after six weeks.

His last job was a six-month contract position with Idaho Woodworks in Sandpoint, which ended in March.

At the time, Anderson fought his dismissal from the county payroll, describing it as politically motivated.

“Essentially, the city and its taxpayers are being given the burden of my being laid off by the county,” Anderson said.

, DataTimes


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