Mayor Echanove concludes 26 years at Palouse city hall
December 19, 2019
At the conclusion of the Palouse city council meeting Dec. 10, Mayor Michael Echanove read thank you notes, swore-in new mayor Chris Cook, effective Jan. 1, and said he would entertain a motion to adjourn – after 26 years as mayor and city councilman.
A motion was made and seconded.
"All opposed?" called Echanove.
Then he paused a moment.
"Motion carried," he said.
That night, they had passed the budget for next year and took in a report on the planning commission's community survey.
Cook, a councilman, will now take the reigns.
"I have truly enjoyed being mayor of the City of Palouse," Echanove said later. "I've gotten to travel and meet the great people I've met around the state. That's why I'm sitting in some damn truck stop in Ritzville now talking on the phone."
A Dec. 6 reception in Palouse honored Echanove and 19-year councilman Rick Wekenman, also retiring.
The mayor was presented with a framed commemoration from City Administrator Kyle Dixon, signed by Governor Jay Inslee, who Echanove does not know.
"How did you do that?" the mayor asked.
"You taught me well," said Dixon.
Echanove began as mayor in 2001, appointed after eight years on the city council. He first won election to the office in 2002.
"It doesn't seem like 26 years," he said. "We've been able to accomplish a few things. Time just melts. If you're doing what you like, and making good progress, it makes it easy to stay for a few years."
An example Echanove cites for what time was like in office is the reconstruction of West Whitman Street (replacing rail line too) – done in two phases, east and west, in 2008, then 2017.
Echanove began working state Senator Mark Schoesler for the funding in 2005.
"That's a 12-year process for 1,200 feet of road," Echanove said.
Schoesler was at the reception for Echanove and the mayor thanked him for his work behind the scenes.
As a city councilman – the head of Palouse's streets and sidewalks committee – one of the major projects Echanove was involved in was the post-flood of 1996 reconstruction of Main Street. It included going four feet under the road to put in new piping – to have it all done at once so as not to cut up the street again.
Above, new streetlights went in, benches and the town clock.
Once complete, Palouse tied with the City of Vancouver for best Washington State Department of Transportation city project, 2001.
Another project was taking out nine trailer homes to create a new park at the south entrance of town in 2007-08. Then the Palouse RV park was built across the river, led by former councilman Mike Milano.
The Palouse solar farm project went in in 2016 and this year, a trail has gone in next to Shady Lane, funded by a city application for .09 money from the county.
The public restrooms at Heritage Park, next to the grocery store, was a project begun in 2001, with volunteers building the public restroom building on Saturdays. The city bought the land, previous to Echanove as mayor, from the rural fire department for $1.
The city also tore down the old Congress Theater after owner Doug Willcox gave it to the city, on property which the new community center was built in 2012.
"We at the city said give it to us, we'll take care of it," Echanove said.
The community center paid to lease the land.
"They got tired of giving a dollar a year, I think they paid 97 years in advance," said Echanove.
He credited many council representatives and city staff on what they accomplished during his time as mayor.
"(Mayor) Bruce Baldwin had always given me a long leash," Echanove said, of his time as a councilman. "So I never forgot that."
He took over as mayor from Butch Smith, who took over after Baldwin, now deceased, did not run for a second term.
Among the trials as mayor, Echanove cited the suicide of 16-year-old Dylan Mayhan-Treese, found beneath a former railroad bridge in 2010, and the loss of Baldwin in 2018.
"Bruce was quite a mentor to me," he said.
What were the biggest policy challenges?
"In 2008, when the economy went sideways. It took a couple years before it hit small city budgets," Echanove said. "The staff took pay cuts. Everyone was trying not to buy things."
At one point, the city's Public Works department suggested closing the Heritage Park restrooms in the winter to save money on heat. The Chamber of Commerce stepped in and paid to keep them open, as it did to keep the readerboard on. The city had shut the board down to save $75 per month.
The Breedings Addition was another matter – the controversial laying in of a sewer line for homes in the area to hook up to the city, instead of using a septic system.
"We had a little bit of a saga going on there," the mayor said. "It's a sewer line for gosh sakes... No one likes to get a $5,000 bill, but no one likes to have no sewer either."
Echanove hired Police Chief Jerry Neumann and was part of expanding the department to cover Garfield, in which Palouse effectively pays for two officers and Garfield one.
What did Echanove learn as mayor, to do a different way?
"About everything," he said. "I've learned a million things. You've got to form partnerships. They're like a foundation to accomplish any tasks. Whether it's partnerships of money, talent, skill."
Some were tougher than others.
"The wastewater part of Ecology have given me a run for my wits," Echanove said, referring to the ongoing process to adjust the sewer operation to comply with new rules.
On Dec. 12, Echanove went to Wenatchee for a meeting of the Community Aviation Revitalization Board, a new state agency set up by the legislature earlier this year, with $5 million set aside. The board awarded $3.1 million in aviation projects, its first awarding.
Echanove is a board alternate. He has also served two terms on the state's Community Economic Revitalization Board. He was off it for three years before being appointed two years ago to a statewide open position. He is now the vice-chair.
He will remain on both boards.
No longer in official capacity in Palouse, the mayor took one look back.
"After the flood, the volunteer spirit that bloomed during it only became more prevalent," he said. "It's just taken all of us to do all the wonderful projects over the years. It's been all of us, that's all."