March 12, 2010 in Idaho

Palouse residents plan event to assist mayor, his wife

Associated Press

PALOUSE – An open house for Mayor Michael Echanove and his wife, Paula, will be conducted here Saturday evening to help replace $2,000 in wages the mayor was docked from his job at Washington State University.

Organizer Connie Newman said the open house, at her home at 415 Division St., is also to thank and honor the Echanoves for all the good things they’ve done for this Whitman County community.

“As you know, Michael has been under some political fire here in the last several months, particularly with the WSU audit that was requested by Mr. McGeehee,” Newman said. “The people who are doing this party and giving donations do not feel that Michael should have to bear the financial penalty that was imposed on him as a result of that audit.”

McGeehee, a former city councilor and critic of the mayor, filed a complaint last year with WSU’s Information Technology Services department, where Echanove is an administrator. As a result of the complaint, Heather R. Lopez, director of WSU’s Office of Internal Audit, ordered an investigation.

A report revealed that Echanove used WSU resources – including telephones, computers, e-mails and office time – to conduct Palouse city business and other outside volunteer duties. At the time of the audit, Echanove said he thought his activities were proper because they were not for profit, according to the report.

“We decided to have the party to honor and thank Michael and Paula for all the years of service they’ve devoted and given to the community,” Newman said. She said any money collected over the $2,000 amount will be donated to the Palouse Community Center.

As of Thursday afternoon, she said, about 70 people called to say they plan to attend the open house, and many more are expected. The open house will be from 6 to 11 p.m. and include food, nonalcoholic beverages, entertainment, a silent auction and door prizes, Newman said. She asked that anyone planning to attend RSVP at (509) 878-1235.

“It’s just a party to thank him for his years of service.”

According to the audit results, Echanove made a total of 1,289 personal phone calls over a 15-month period from his WSU office not related to his job at the university. In addition, at least 146 e-mails sent or received on Echanove’s WSU computer were associated with outside work, according to the audit findings.

Echanove has admitted he was wrong and posted a copy of the WSU audit on the city of Palouse Web site.

In addition to serving as mayor in Palouse since 2003, Echanove is chairman of the Citizens Advisory Group of the Palouse Basin Aquifer Committee. He’s also a member of the Community Economic Revitalization Board. He’s been employed at WSU for at least 25 years.

In addition to lost wages, Echanove was required to attend state ethics training as a result of the audit, according to records. The audit report noted WSU employees are allowed to use state resources for personal reasons under limited circumstances. But WSU policy prohibits use of state resources to engage in work or duties for private benefit or gain.

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