By Laurelle Walsh
As Winthrop’s outgoing mayor Dave Acheson passes the baton to his successor Sue Langdalen this week, he admits that “the end hasn’t quite sunk in yet.”
After eight years in office, it’s perhaps not surprising that Acheson is still in mayor mode. “I’m busy doing normal day-to-day administration stuff until Sue takes over,” he said.
Acheson has been coordinating with Langdalen since she was elected mayor two months ago, getting her input on town matters and including her in staff meetings, he said. “I want the transition to be as smooth and easy as possible for everyone involved,” Acheson said.
One of his final acts as mayor was raising the salary for his successor from $700 to $1,000 per month.
“The salary raise was my idea,” Acheson said. “Sue didn’t know anything about it until she saw it in the budget.
“The job is worth at least that much, and would be much higher in the private sector,” he continued. “Salary is a balance. You don’t want people to do the job because of the money, but you don’t want people not to do it because of the money.”
Looking back on two terms as Winthrop mayor, Acheson recalls the challenges, accomplishments and personal growth that came with eight years as the town’s top administrator.
“My biggest challenges were all behind closed doors,” said Acheson, a soft-spoken leader who was criticized at times for being slow to share issues of public concern.
“I’ve had personnel challenges at times,” Acheson said. “Eight years ago my biggest concern was my ability to manage people, because I had less experience with that. I’ve gained a lot of skills in that department.”
The Winthrop Marshal’s Office provided its share of challenges during Acheson’s tenure: officer retention, recruitment, questions of officer conduct and the partial revocation of its mutual aid agreement with Twisp. Most recently, members of the Winthrop and Twisp town councils have discussed merging their towns’ police departments.
“The police merger will be discussed again and again,” said Acheson. “I think it will happen. Policing is a very expensive thing for a small town. It’s a question of what services the citizens want the town to provide.”
Two major public works projects, the multi-million-dollar Spring Creek pedestrian bridge and its companion Susie Stephens Trail, came to fruition largely under Acheson’s leadership, though not without logistical challenges and resistance from some members of the community. “I had my share of sleepless nights associated with the bridge and trail projects,” Acheson recalls.
Acheson also saw the town through an economic downturn that slowed Winthrop’s tourist industry and stalled construction starts.
“We had to weather a few difficult years, but not as difficult as for other communities without as strong an economic base,” Acheson said. “The town is on a solid footing now; the economy is turning around. We’re back to the sales tax levels of 2008 and building projects are picking up.”
In his role as mayor, Acheson sat on the boards of two regional agencies: the North Central Washington Economic District and the North Central Regional Transportation Organization, which succeeded in getting the new Okanogan County Transit Authority, recently approved by voters, up and running.
Mayor Acheson has been involved in planning for the county’s new transit district since it was proposed at a regional transportation improvement conference in 2008. He said he was not surprised that the Transit Authority passed, but he was surprised by the margin by which it was approved.
“It had been put on the ballot in the mid-1990s and failed,” Acheson said. “When we decided to put it on the ballot again, I argued strongly that what we needed was a good product. We told voters, ‘This is what it costs to create a workable system. Are you willing to support it?’”
Out of the mayor’s office, Acheson will no longer be able to serve on the Transit Authority board, but he would like to continue his involvement by serving on a proposed citizens’ advisory committee. “It’s important to get this off the ground. It will change people’s lives,” he said.
Acheson estimates he spent an average of 20 hours per week in his mayoral duties, and said part of the challenge of being mayor is matching a full-time job with town-related meetings and other responsibilities. “Balancing my work schedule was difficult at times,” he said. “Now I can actually just have one job with normal hours.”
Acheson plans to take a break from public service for now to “recharge,” however he wouldn’t rule it out in the future, he said. He will continue serving on the board of the Methow Chapter of the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance and said he wouldn’t be surprised if other organizations called on him to serve.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself and the community. I’ve grown as a person,” he said. “If you have to be a politician, this is a good place to do it. Everybody cares deeply about this place.”