Chris Anderson is taking a leave of absence from the Spokane City Council to work as a driver on the “Dante’s Peak” movie set in Wallace, Idaho.
Saying he refused “to comment on matters of a personal nature,” Anderson wouldn’t confirm his temporary employment Tuesday. “It’s not something, frankly, that’s anybody’s business.”
But an accountant for Universal Pictures confirmed, “he’s one of our drivers.”
Anderson’s role is strictly off-camera. “He drives equipment around,” the accountant said.
The film starring Pierce Brosnan involves the residents of a small town who learn that a nearby mountain will soon erupt.
At least two of Anderson’s council colleagues were shocked to learn his whereabouts.
“What?” said Mayor Jack Geraghty. “You’ve got to be kidding?”
“Isn’t that nice?” said Councilman Jeff Colliton, adding he was relieved to see an end to the gossip. “There’s been rumors, rampant.”
On June 2, Anderson 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 he planned to do. Anderson has refused repeated requests from news media to comment on his absence.
“Everybody had an idea,” said a city secretary who asked to remain anonymous. “The fact that he made it such a secret caused a lot of speculation.”
Anderson continues to receive his $18,000-a-year salary. He isn’t violating the charter’s attendance requirements for council members, said City Attorney James Sloane. Members must miss at least six months of meetings for their seat to be “deemed vacant.”
Anderson said Tuesday that despite missing council and committee meetings, he’s been returning phone calls and answering electronic mail. He also stops by City Hall in the evenings and on weekends to pick up council packets, mail and messages.
He recently asked that the city cellular phone he had disconnected last year be reconnected. Council members pay their own cellular phone bills.
“I continue to serve my constituency through correspondence, written and e-mail. My contact with everybody continues as always,” Anderson said, adding that in the past he has “carried well beyond my load for quite some time.”
But Anderson’s colleagues complain his repeated absences have shifted the workload to other council members. They have substituted for Anderson on at least some of his eight boards and commissions.
Geraghty said several important issues face the city that require all council members’ attention. Those include a proposed bond issue for streets, a strong mayor initiative and urban growth areas.
Anderson said his absence is no different than the vacations and trips other council members take.
In the past, the councilman’s search for a full-time job has been well publicized. Anderson, who is married with three daughters, hasn’t had full-time work since his six-month contract with Idaho Woodworks of Sandpoint expired in March 1995. Before that, he worked as a financial systems manager for Spokane County, but was laid off in 1993.
Pete Powell, an ardent supporter of Anderson in the past, said he’s sad to see such a talented person take on “odd jobs” to support his family.
“He has such a strong resume, but his politics have affected his ability to be hired,” Powell said.
That aside, he said, he’s not pleased by Anderson’s disappearing act.
“Who suffers on this? Again - the taxpayers,” Powell said. “They’re paying his salary, and they’re missing his well-balanced expertise on the council.”
“We’re taking a double hit on this.”
Mamie Picard, a neighborhood activist and longtime Anderson fan, remains loyal. “I figure he’s just had to be away. He has a good reason.”
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