City Council appoints new public works director, discusses mental health

Councilmembers spoke on mental health month, rise in suicide attempts



Pullman Mayor Glenn Johnson said the month of May has been a time to bring awareness to mental health.


Pullman City Council appointed a new public works director and discussed rising suicide attempt rates during their meeting Tuesday night. 

Pullman Mayor Glenn Johnson said Shawn Kohtz will replace Kevin Gardes as the new public works director in June following a unanimous vote.

Kohtz has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Idaho and a master’s degree in environmental engineering from WSU. Kohtz works as a professional engineer in Washington, Idaho and Montana, Johnson said. 

Councilmember Nathan Weller said appointing Kohtz as the new public works director is a fortunate thing. 

“This guy was an amazing find,” he said. “He’s a good guy to have onboard.”

Johnson said the council will honor Kevin Gardes as his days in the position come to an end. 

“He’s done a fantastic job as our public works director,” he said. “Shawn and Kevin have had good conversations as well, so they’ve had a chance to talk.” 

Mental Health Month

The month of May has been a time to bring awareness to mental health, Johnson said. 

Mike Berney, Palouse River Counseling executive director, said everyone is going through a very difficult time because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A lot of systems and regular routines have been disrupted for a long time now, Berney said.

“[Primary care practitioners] are seeing a lot more alcohol and other drug use in addition to mental health or behavioral health kinds of issues,” he said.

During the pandemic, younger people are experiencing more anxiety than older people, he said. 

“They have fewer experiences to draw and fewer skills,” Berney said. “They’ve had greater disruption in their life and in their regular routines.”

Berney said the rate of suicide attempts has gone up in the past couple of weeks.

“Hopefully, it’s not a trend, it’s a spike, and it’ll come back down,” he said. “But we’re trying to do a variety of things that will help people address the feeling of hopelessness or helplessness.” 

Weller said suicide is a topic that hits close to home for him. Weller knew people personally who have died by suicide and has struggled with his own mental health at times as well. 

“My entire life, [I have] dealt with depression, anxiety and had suicidal ideations,” he said. “It’s important to share this because I am in a … position where it is important to speak out and let people know that there is hope.”