August 22, 1996 in Nation/World

Chris Anderson’s Film Career Irks Other Council Members

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Chris Anderson says he doesn’t know when he’ll return to his $1,500-a-month job on the Spokane City Council.

“It’s impossible for me to know,” he said Wednesday.

Anderson - who latched onto a truck-driving job when the movie “Dante’s Peak” was being filmed in Wallace - now is in Los Angeles working nights on the film.

Continuing to cash his paycheck is unconscionable, some fellow council members say.

“I wouldn’t personally be able to draw a salary and not be here to perform the functions,” Councilwoman Phyllis Holmes said.

“If one of the other council members had done that, he’d have been the severest critic,” Mayor Jack Geraghty said.

Anderson’s leave began June 2 when he sent a three-paragraph letter to Geraghty saying he must “attend to an extended personal family matter that will require my absence from regular meetings for the following approximate 6-8 weeks.”

The letter didn’t explain what Anderson planned to do, and he refused repeated requests for comment. The movie company later confirmed Anderson’s employment on the “Dante’s Peak” set in Wallace.

During his absence he continues to receive his $18,000-a-year salary, plus roughly $460 a month in related health benefits.

Anderson said he’s not ripping off taxpayers.

“I am paid to be a part-time council member, and I continue to perform those part-time duties as well as - and perhaps better - than some of my colleagues,” he said in a telephone interview.

Anderson said he may not attend meetings, but he’s reading the newspaper and all council packets. He also is returning his constituents’ telephone calls and messages sent via electronic mail.

The film crew left Wallace two weeks ago, and plans to finish shooting in California by early October, Anderson said.

He may stay on that long. He may not. His job as a “daily” employee means they tell him each day if they need him the next.

“Anything’s a possibility,” Anderson said, adding he was “flattered to have been asked to help conclude their shooting schedule.”

While Anderson feels flattered, his colleagues are increasingly frustrated. He’s missing regular meetings, as well as those of boards and commissions.

Other council members pick up his slack.

“It’s not fair to the citizens. It’s not fair to the council,” Holmes said.

“I think it’s time he leveled with us,” said Geraghty, adding he wished Anderson would have the “courtesy to let us know” when he’ll return.

“It’s becoming somewhat of a chore for the rest of us … to meet his commitments,” said Councilman Jeff Colliton.

At least some council members concede it’s more peaceful without Anderson around.

“His disruptiveness impeded progress, while in his absence we seem to be accomplishing more,” Holmes said.

Anderson’s extended leave is often the butt of jokes among council members, city employees and the public.

At a council retreat this week, Holmes updated the group on the status of a committee she served on with Geraghty and …

“That’s terrible. I actually forgot his name,” she said as she groped for Anderson’s name. The room exploded in laughter.

Attorney Steve Eugster recently told the Spokane Chamber of Commerce his strong-mayor initiative limited council absences to four consecutive meetings. “We have a problem with that,” he said, his comments prompting laughter.

Anderson said his need to leave the state to find a job is a sad fact of what he considers Spokane’s troubled economy. “I don’t like to be away from my family, but I need to be away to support that family,” he said.

Anderson also said his situation highlights changes to the city charter that need to be made, including those that make council positions full time with full-time pay or allow voting by computer or telephone.

“I can not imagine doing this job in absentia,” Holmes said. “If it can be done, why am I spending so many hours doing the job?”

Colliton suggested a different charter change. The charter currently allows a council person to be gone up to six months before the seat is declared vacant.

“We need to rewrite this very quickly so it can’t happen in the future,” Colliton said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo


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