Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

By Garth Meyer
Gazette Reporter 

County Mayor's Roundtable convenes virtual meeting

 


COMPUTER SCREENS – A couple dozen county officials gathered by teleconference Thursday night, June 18, for a Whitman County Mayors' Virtual Roundtable.

Hosted by Paul Kimmel, regional business manager for Avista, the two-hour session covered topics from 4H animals to WSU in-person education this fall to the state of the county economy with virus restrictions.

The event began with comments from County Commissioner Michael Largent.

“Thirty-one today” he said, about total COVID-19 cases in Whitman County. “We are so interdependent.”

Troy Henderson, county public health director, gave a report, noting that “We've had 31 confirmed cases. I've been pretty pleased with mask-wearing.”

He talked about the state shutdowns in March in regard to Whitman County.

“It was earlier than we would have, but I think it bought us some time and reduced our case count,” Henderson said.

He talked about the return of WSU students as the next major challenge, among other things.

“You need to wear a mask so other people can feel comfortable,” he said, referring to doing business around the county. “For customers a mask is not required, but some folks walk in the door and if they see 20 people without a mask, they turn around and walk out.”

Jeff Guyet spoke next, executive director of Community Action Center in Pullman. Jenn Hackman followed, economic development manager, City of Pullman, reiterating what Largent said about how inter-related, interdependent the county is.

“Only 41 percent of people living in Pullman actually work in Pullman,” she said.

Aziz Makhani went next, certified business advisor, SBDC (Small Business Development Centers), serving Whitman, Garfield and Asotin counties.

He talked about “educating people on PPP (federal Paycheck Protection Program).”

“The idea of PPP, it's so nuanced,” said Makhani.

The computer monitors continued – Kimmel re-appearing to introduce each speaker.

Colleen Kerr, WSU vice president of external affairs and chief legislative officer, spoke about students coming back to campus in the fall.

“For students living on campus, a large portion, probably a majority of their classes will be virtual,” she said.

Kerr noted that athletes were allowed back June 15, starting first with a 14-day quarantine. She told of how the governor's office will give direction on how many people may be permitted in a room on campus.

“Contact tracing and quarantining those individuals who have been contact-traced,” she said.

She pushed further; K-12 guidelines, athletics, best practices, navigating.

County Commissioner Art Swannack asked if students and parents are willing to come back.

Kerr referred to town halls hosted with WSU President Kirk Schulz.

“Students are ready to get out of the house, and parents are ready for them to get out of the house,” she said, adding that there will be less live-in students on campus, with possible single-student housing with exceptions.

“I believe we can have the safest experience in the United States,” Kerr said.

Kimmel thanked her and moved to introduce the next speaker.

“And Colleen did give us documents in the chatbox on K-12 re-opening,” he said, as state guidelines also relate to higher education.

“And a huge shoutout to Challenge Seattle,” Kerr said, referring to an alliance of CEOs from Puget Sound's largest employers (which focuses on middle-income housing affordability, education and more).

Past 7:30 p.m., Dawn Smith, director of SEWEDA (Southeast Washington Economic Development Association), told the assembled how the organization has used $100,000 from reserves to help area businesses.

“In Whitman County, we've been very busy,” Nielsen said.

Alex McGregor talked, the McGregor Company's board chairman. Susan Nielsen, rural and small business services manager from the Washington State Department of Commerce, followed, noting free temporary access to the internet.

“Nine locations in Whitman County now have drive-in wi-fi,” she said.

She talked further about the department of commerce, for which she works out of its Spokane office.

“When I say pivoted, I mean we turned everything upside down,” she said. “These online courses that we've pivoted to were a new way of delivering our small business programs.”

Nearing the Roundtable's end, McGregor spoke about what will happen with kids' animals since the Palouse Empire Fair has been canceled.

“Statewide there are 43,000 kids and 137,000 animals,” he said. “A number of us have been making the case that there needs to be a sense of urgency here,” he said.

Pullman Mayor Glenn Johnson then reported that numbers at Moscow-Pullman Regional Airport were increasing, saying about 40 passengers were now taking the 6:45 a.m. Alaska flight, going direct to Seattle, rather than a stop in Walla Walla.

Johnson talked about a retirement party for a longtime city employee coming up.

“We'll do all the social distancing, masks on until you have to eat something, I guess,” he said.

Then he concluded.

“With everything going on in Seattle and around the country, how grateful I am for our police chief, Gary Jenkin,” he said. “We had body cams before Seattle, before Spokane.”

The Mayor's Roundtable is a series which takes place three or four times per year.

Author Bio

Garth Meyer, Reporter

Garth Meyer is a reporter and sports writer at the Whitman County Gazette.

Email: [email protected]
Phone: 5092356184
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