August 1, 2015

LaCrosse builder experimenting with tiny, healthy homes

Tiny Home John Ellis     The first tiny, healthy home John Ellis of LaCrosse built.         By Kara McMurray Gazette Reporter When John and Shannon Ellis’ son Kaleb was younger, he spent a lot of his time in the family RV in the backyard. It soon became his “escape pod.” Kaleb, 16, is autistic, and he is his parent’s top priority. They have devoted their lives to helping him, and now think they have found something that will not only benefit him, but many others with disabilities as well. John worked as a builder and developer in Mount Vernon, Wash., for 20 years, and John and Shannon raised alpacas there before moving to Fredericksburg, Texas, to be able to access special therapies for Kaleb. They moved to Shannon’s hometown of LaCrosse after four years in Texas to care for Shannon’s parents. With John looking for work where he didn’t have to commute and the family seeking to stay in LaCrosse, John had the idea to begin building tiny homes, something which will eventually benefit Kaleb. He has spent the last year in the research and development phase, and he emphasized that he is still in that stage. The questions he sought to answer as he entered this endeavor were if he could build in a remote farming community and make a profit and if there was a market for his specific tiny home. John’s homes are different than those found in the popular tiny house movement throughout the U.S. He seeks to build tiny, healthy homes out of the best available non-toxic materials. He said these materials will make a difference in the quality of the home. “People don’t realize how much toxins are in our indoor environment,” John said. He said the homes are “built with health in mind.” A brochure for Sensory Homes, John’s business, explains his purpose of incorporating non-toxic, health-promoting materials into homes, after discovering sick home symptoms wreaking havoc in his own family. The way John has found to build these homes is by purchasing the best available materials and using zero plastics and products that do not off-gas. He also steers away from recycled materials.


Barrage of questions fired at Colfax mayoral hopefuls

Mayor's group Colfax mayor candidates, from left, G. Todd Vanek, J.W. Roberts and Don Henderson, participated in a forum July 22. Below are individual shots of Vanek, Roberts and Henderson. G. Todd Vanek

J.W. Roberts

Don Henderson

A variety of questions came from the audience July 22 in a forum which featured the three candidates for Colfax mayor now on the ballot for the Aug. 4 primary vote. Running close to three hours, the forum was hosted by the Pullman League of Women Voters. It was one of three forums conducted by the league to get candidates in three-way primary races in front of the public. Mayor Todd Vanek, who is completing his first term in office, and challengers Don Henderson and J.W. Roberts responded to questions written on cards which were supplied to audience members in the Norma McGregor room at the library. The card questions were relayed by moderator Bev Olson. Henderson served 16 years in the city council before stepping down two years ago, and Roberts served one term, 2008-2012. Both said they were lifelong residents of Colfax who sought the town’s top office to establish an improved relationship with the residents. Henderson, who is retired, stressed he would be available to residents 24-7. “Change is progress, if it’s done the right way,” he commented. Roberts in his opening statement said he would like to see Colfax “get back to where we were.” Vanek said he wanted to continue to find ways to generate revenues that don’t come out of the taxpayers’ pockets. Candidates were asked to list what they considered the most pressing issue facing the town and state their visions for the future. The troublesome city pool operation, the proposed Colfax-Pullman trail, the future of the Codger Pole and personnel policy were other issues. Vanek said he believes top priority needs to be building the town’s tax base to offset what he sees as a drop in state funding, grant opportunities and the increased costs of operation. Henderson said maintaining the budget was a key issue, and Roberts said he believes establishing faith in the mayor’s position was a top issue. An RV park next to McDonald Park and extension of the N. Palouse walking path along the golf course were listed by Henderson as his visions of the future. Roberts said he would like to see a new community center/swim pool project and installation of a new water line from Glenwood. Vanek said a self-sustaining budget and community center would be on his list. He noted a grant application is in the works for the Glenwood line. Henderson said Colfax needs to build a new pool for toddlers, and Roberts said he believes the town should form a park and recreation district as a means of funding a new swimming pool. Vanek said he wished the town could have a benefactor fund a pool. He added one factor that needs to be considered in a pool project would be the operating cost. Both challengers said they would like to see the city drop its new code officer program and rely more on good neighbor relations for upkeep of buildings and yards. Vanek noted the code officer position evolved through the addition of a police position for security at the hospital, and the new code program called for working with property owners to make changes before taking any enforcement action. On the Colfax-Pullman trail proposal for the now-dormant railroad along the S. Palouse River, Vanek said he believed in preserving the right-of-way and could see benefits for Colfax as a trailhead destination if the trail became a reality. He added many entities would have to participate. Henderson said he would like to see the railroad keep the property, but could also see benefits for Colfax if the trail proposal eventually became a reality. Roberts said he believes the city had “bigger fish to fry” than the trail. He noted the success of the Bill Chipman Trail, and said at some time Colfax will have to weigh the good and bad factors related to the topic. Asked what they rated as “tough tasks” they have faced in public service, Vanek said he felt it was getting city staffers to examine how they do their jobs and consider doing it a different way to improve service to the public. Roberts said during the four years he served on the council the controversy involved with the firing of Fire Chief Ralph Walter and a property dispute in the wake of the rural residential zone annexation were tough topics. Henderson said an annexation proposal which failed to be accomplished was a tough task. On the future for the Codger Pole, Roberts suggested the future of the pole could be put up to a vote of the people. Vanek noted motel-hotel tax funds have been charted for maintenance of the pole, and Henderson said he believed the pole should be maintained, possibly with the use of the hotel-motel tax. Asked how they might counter the Colfax reputation as a speed trap, Vanek suggested a marketing campaign urging motorists to “stop in Colfax for other reasons” could be introduced, and Henderson said motorists who drive at the speed limit don’t have to worry about it. Roberts said he didn’t think there was much the town could do about the reputation. On dealing with personnel, Vanek said he believed it was important to remember you’re dealing with somebody’s life and also realize the work has to be done. Henderson said he would be sure to do a thorough background check before hiring, and he would be sure to have a valid reason for dismissing an employee. Roberts noted he had to manage an apprentice program when he worked as an electrician. He noted having a poor employee on staff impacts the performance of other employees.


Views differ at Palouse mayoral forum

Below are individual pictures of Palouse mayoral candidates Michael Echanove, Brad Pearce and Connie Newman from the candidate forum help last Thursday, July 23.   Michael Echanove Brad Pearce Connie Newman By Garth Meyer Gazette Reporter The three mayoral candidates appeared last Thursday night at the Palouse Community Center to answer questions submitted by the public in a Pullman League of Women Voters-sponsored event. Incumbent Michael Echanove and challengers Connie Newman, a former Palouse city council member, and Brad Pearce fielded questions in the nearly two-hour forum in front of a crowded hall. In opening statements, differences were drawn first by Pearce’s call to “legalize ducks and roosters” and to end the town’s burn ordinance, while Newman called for a balanced budget every year, in contrast to the sometime use of reserves during Echanove’s last term. Pearce, 27, a property manager and gardener, said the budget shouldn’t be only balanced, it should be lowered. Crediting Echanove for the work he’s done in office, Pearce nonetheless said he would go about it differently. “I would certainly intend to be a much more inactive mayor, to not use the position as a bully pulpit,” he said. Moderator Deborah Olson of the League of Women Voters then read a question about the role of city government to attract business. “I’m a firm believer in lassaiz-faire capitalism,” said Pearce, who grew up in Palouse and graduated from WSU with an English degree. “It’s not the job of the mayor or the city council to attract business.” “Public infrastructure is the key, and private enterprise is responding in Palouse,” Echanove said. Pearce drew another distinction while answering another question. “(I’d be) a mayor who works around town all day instead of being in Pullman from 9 to 5,” he said while sitting at the front table in a “Students for Ron Paul for President 2008” t-shirt and sunglasses propped on top of his head. Echanove, 57, works in Information Technology at WSU. Government’s role The next question was about how to get more citizens engaged in city government. “Education and information,” answered Newman, 48. “I think social media is a great answer. But I ran into a lot of people while doorbelling who could not e-mail a question.” Another question came about the role of the mayor in the lack of affordable housing for low-income residents. “What is the role of city government in student retention in Palouse?” read Olson from the podium for the next question. “We need to have affordable housing,” answered Newman, a University of Idaho graduate in Sociology. She concluded her answer, mentioning a lack of daycare, and then handed the lapel microphone to Pearce. “None,” he said, and handed it back. Echanove cited a supportive environment and infrastructure, highlighting the 21-unit housing development on Cove Road, while Newman called attention to its price points. “Who is that development serving?” she asked, before saying the city could explore tax breaks for young families. “We need to relax the laws of placing manufactured homes outside of parks,” said Pearce, explaining that manufactured homes in certain Pullman developments are aesthetically pleasing enough. Police, pool, taxes “Does Palouse need three police officers?” came the next question. “Absolutely not,” said Pearce. “You would be amazed by how much these people patrol. Remember, this town is not that big.” Echanove then pointed to officers’ time required in vacation, training, sick days and more to provide 24-hour coverage. “The math will just plain show you,” he said of the need for three officers. Newman pointed out that the third officer is actually shared with Garfield, then saying she supports the three-officer department. “But there needs to be a lot of accountability,” she said. “I’m proud of them,” Echanove said. Pearce suggested that the police in a town Palouse’s size should be “glorified dog catchers.” “They should smile, as they deal with minor complaints and not real crimes, instead of bringing an aggressive force,” he said. More questions came: a potential new water tower, the recent levy lid lift, sewer plant upgrades called for by the state’s Department of Ecology and taxes. “You want housing to be affordable, maybe you ought to stop squeezing every dollar out of property tax,” said Pearce. A question about the city pool followed. “It’s pretty much the only thing we can charge admission to in this town and we’re not doing it,” Pearce answered, in part. “You can’t fund the pool on user fees,” Echanove said, during his answer. “Pools lose money, that’s a reality,” Newman said, noting that the Palouse pool has opened later in June and closed earlier in August in recent years. “I would like to see that go back to the pool being open all summer… Maybe we should be charging more to the people from out of town.” A question about the Brownsfield cleanup site came. “This is an innovative town: when we build it, the people come,” Newman said, suggesting tiny houses may be viable idea for the half-acre site on Main Street. “I think we should put it up for auction and sell it to the highest bidder,” Pearce said. Echanove then cited the various agencies that funded the extensive cleanup of a former fertilizer’s producers shop and gas station. It is now a vacant lot. “They want to see that site integrated back into our community,” Echanove said, suggesting housing, light industrial or another use. After a five-minute break, questions resumed. “What is the most pressing issue facing Palouse?” “Long-term planning,” answered Echanove, before turning to the short-term: infrastructure. “I hammer on this all the time,” he said, then noted the recent funding from a state transportation package two weeks ago which included $280,000 for Whitman Street railroad replacement in Palouse. Newman answered, naming the sewer plant upgrade and a new water tower. “But none will happen if we don’t balance the budget every year,” she said. She then pointed out the required matching funds for the infrastructure work Echanove talked about. “We have to have money in reserve if we’re going to take advantage of these opportunities,” she said. Pearce answered and suggested that some issues are less than pressing. “I can tell you as mayor, there are plenty of people I’d tell to get a life when they call the mayor with a minor complaint,” he said. “Sometimes they should just go to their neighbor and have a conversation.” Concluding More questions came as the sky darkened outside the windows of the community center and the air-conditioning turned chilly. “I’ve got a 21-year history with the city,” Echanove said. “People know me pretty good.” Newman mentioned that as mayor she would bring back the student advisor position to the city council, in which a high school student sat in with the council during meetings. “To bridge a gap between the city and the school district,” she said. To a question about what to do to increase employment opportunities for young adults, Newman cited lifeguards at the pool in a full season and bringing back an assistant Public Works position that was eliminated. More questions; one on recycling, then one about “loveable and sumptuous” poultry. “Legalize ducks!” called Pearce before expanding his answer. “I believe it’s completely ridiculous to complain about hearing a rooster during the day when you’ve chosen to live in a small farm town.” In the final stretch of questions, one was about the 2012 Palouse planning commission survey and why the city council never specifically discussed it. Another was about the city building code enforcement and what to do regarding abandoned properties, specifically trailers. Then the final question: “What do you love about Palouse?” “To be honest, my wife,” Pearce said to laughter. “She lives here, so.” He expanded to note the uniqueness of “walking into the grocery store and seeing a university professor having a conversation with a farmer.” He handed the microphone to Newman. “It might be cliché to say, but the people,” she said. “There isn’t anything I don’t love about Palouse,” answered Echanove finally, noting that it’s a town where the fire department receives $9.50 per call. “These people are risking their lives (for Palouse),” he said. The three candidates will be narrowed to two in the Aug. 4 primary. Echanove’s background also includes two terms as city councilman and three as mayor. Newman served on the city council from 2010–13, and is a former Transportation Supervisor for Garfield-Palouse school district and substitute teacher.



Coles retires after 29 years at Gar-Pal

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Democracy for a mere stamp

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