Wekenman retires after 19 years on Palouse council
December 12, 2019
Rick Wekenman, 19-year Palouse city council veteran, cast his last vote Tuesday night, capping one of the longest terms in the town's history.
Appointed in the years after the flood of 1996, Wekenman saw a myriad of issues and acted as mayor pro-tem since his second year in office.
He was appointed in 2000, after serving on the planning commission.
"It's been a long haul, we've seen a lot of good things happen in those 19 years," said Wekenman, who retires at the same time as Michael Echanove, a 26-year councilman and mayor.
His decision to go was related.
"With Michael leaving, I thought it would be good to break off," Wekenman said. "I'm approaching retirement age in general, and I think the city's in a good position now, with new, young, civic-minded people. Chris Cook, the new mayor, being one of them."
Wekenman came to Palouse in 1981, after buying a house for $19,000, from which he commuted to his job at Northwest River Supplies (NRS) in Moscow. He grew up in rural Michigan and suburban New York City, the son of a school superintendent, and later a Manhattan commuter from Westchester County as vice president of sales for Grolier, Inc., an encyclopedia publisher.
Wekenman chose the University of Idaho to pursue his interest in fisheries.
He had never been out west. In six months, he had Idaho in-state residency, which meant free tuition at the time.
Wekenman's eventual entry to the Palouse city council had something to do with a friend, Byron Hodges, the city's former maintenance supervisor.
"He just kept prodding me and prodding me," Wekenman said. "Thinking back, my main thing was to shut him up."
Joining the council, what committees was Wekenman on over his tenure?
"Name 'em," he said. "Over the 19 years, I was on pretty much all of them."
Chairman of the council's police, fire and safety committee, he was also on the joint fire board and board of adjustment. He served on the volunteer Brownfields committee, which will soon disband because the site has just been sold for development.
"Rick's just been a wonderful councilman, mayor pro-tem, a chair and a friend," said Mayor Echanove. "Though we didn't always agree."
A big project Wekenman was part of in the early years as councilman was to move the police department out of city hall to its own quarters above the old fire station.
Other work noted in Wekenman's time on the council included the Brownsfield project – a Department of Ecology environmental cleanup of a former gas station on Main Street - expanding police to cover Garfield, large construction projects on East Whitman Street and West Whitman Street, a pilot program with Avista to convert to LED streetlights and more.
All the while, he learned.
"You can have differences of opinion with your fellow representatives, sometimes dramatically, but majority rules," Wekenman said. "Once that vote is cast, you support that vote."
He graduated from University of Idaho in 1977 with bachelor's of science degrees in botany, zoology and biology.
Not getting into veterinary school, Wekenman later got a job in 1979 with the seven-sear-old Northwest River Supplies. The burgeoning Moscow company, now an international seller of river rafts and equipment, at that time operated out of the downstairs of the Moscow Moose Lodge.
There for 10 years, Wekenman then got a job as a warehouseman for Latah County Grain Growers and then went to Palouse Grain Growers in 1992 as assistant manager. He has been there since, succeeding the late Bruce Baldwin as manager two years ago.
Once Wekenman was on the city council, he kept submitting for re-election for his at-large position.
"I never had a particular reason along the way to hang up my hat. It felt like I was helping the town," said Wekenman, who estimates he spent six to seven hours per month on council-related things.
What are some disappointments?
"Currently, I guess you'd say fighting DOE, just such an expensive sewer system upgrade," Wekenman said, referring to required updates to the existing system. "I'm disappointed it's taken this long to get this worked out, and it's not worked out yet."
What are his plans for his new six to seven hours per month?
"Whatever I want to do is what I'll do," he said, indicating he will retire from his job at Palouse Grain Growers in two years. "It's time to give other people a chance."
In his time on the council, he has served with dozens of representatives.
"There was a period there where they just came and went," Wekenman said. "People that get on the council to push a certain agenda. It never works. Those guys that want to change the world in their favor."
He is now a former Palouse councilman himself.
"I'm happy for the time spent on there, and now I'm happy to be done," Wekenman said.