Palouse hit with leadership vacuum

Cook

The Palouse City Council will spend part of its Tuesday meeting discussing how to fill the city’s top leadership role after Mayor Chris Cook resigned from that position at the end of September.

In a letter he submitted to the council on Sept. 28, Cook wrote that “unexpected professional advancement opportunities have made it exceptionally difficult to effectively manage the competing priorities in my life. The reality of the matter is that Palouse needs more than I can give it at this point in time, and because of my great affection for this city and community, I have reluctantly come to accept that someone else with greater bandwidth, can, and should, serve Palouse.”

Cook was elected mayor in November 2019. He is the assistant vice provost for strategic enrollment management at the University of Idaho.

Mayor Pro Tempore Tim Sievers said he expected Cook’s resignation, but did not know when it would happen.

“I guess for me, maybe a little surprised at the notice being so short,” he said. “But that’s his determination and I’m not going to second guess that. It’s what’s best for him and his family and the position that he’s in and I respect that.”

This news of Cook’s departure came shortly after City Administrator Brad Coughenour announced his resignation he said is “solely based on family needs,” according to the Sept. 16 City Council minutes. Coughenour served in that role since May after replacing former City Administrator Kyle Dixon, who left to be the finance director for the Liberty Lake, Wash., city government.

In a letter to the Palouse community, Sievers said a new city administrator can only be appointed by the mayor, according to Palouse Municipal Code.

“Simply put, this means we can’t hire a city administrator until we have a mayor in place,” he wrote.

Sievers does not have the power to appoint or remove any officer or veto any ordinance, he wrote in the letter.

Palouse is accepting applications for the city administrator position. The city’s personnel committee is reviewing applicants and interviews will likely take place next week.

Compounding Palouse’s staffing issues is the absence of Police Chief Jerry Nuemann. In an email to the Daily News, Cook wrote that Neumann has been on medical leave since July 5.

Sievers told the Daily News that Nuemann will remain on leave until his doctor clears him to return. The police department is now only staffed by one officer, Joel Anderson. Sievers said the Whitman County Sheriff’s Office and Garfield Police Department will assist in policing the community.

Sievers, city staff and the Palouse City Council are working hard to run city operations until the mayor and city administrator positions are filled, Sievers said. That includes putting together the city’s budget and trying to move forward on an ongoing wastewater treatment plant upgrade project.

Sievers encouraged the public to contact its city council representatives if they have questions or concerns about the changes and absences at city hall.

“I suspect there are a lot of rumors,” he said. “I’ve heard about things on Facebook that are out there. What I really would love, though, is for people to actually reach out to council and ask us.”

He said not enough people talk to their city council members or attend city council meetings. He said the only way Palouse can get through these issues is by working together.

“And Palouse has a long history of overcoming great obstacles by working together and putting aside our differences,” he said.

Kuipers can be reached at akuipers@dnews.com.

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