Sue Langdalen points to favorite projects — and ongoing issues
By Don Nelson
In nearly 40 years as a Winthrop resident, including two stints as mayor and one term as a town council member, Sue Langdalen has witnessed a lot of change — most of it for the positive, she says.
In an interview this week, Langdalen reflected on her private and public life in Winthrop as she and her husband, Jim, prepare for a move to Stanwood to be closer to other family members, Langdalen presided over her last council meeting a couple of weeks ago; council member Anne Acheson has been named to replace her.
Langdalen said she has been especially gratified by projects such as the Spring Creek Bridge, the Susie Stephens Trail, the Winthrop Ice & Sports Rink and the proposed Riverwalk in downtown Winthrop. She’s also excited about the new park that is under construction on Riverside Avenue (see related story, page A7).
But some things apparently don’t change all that much. “We need to get the police force under control. It is a large issue right now,” Langdalen said — in a 2001 Methow Valley News story when she was running for mayor the first time. Candidate Langdalen added in the same story that she was concerned about making sure the town’s Westernization code was appropriately enforced.
In another déjà vu moment, a News story at the time reported that the town was having trouble getting qualified applicants for the marshal’s position and that it would be necessary to increase pay for police officers to attract more candidates.
Asked this week what has been her biggest challenge in town government, Langdalen answered without hesitation: turnover and performance problems in the marshal’s office, and the ongoing difficulty in attracting good candidates for the police officer positions.
Dealing with the town’s Westernization code, which regulates the appearance of downtown buildings with a fair degree of detail, has also been frustrating, Langdalen said. She hopes a proposed update of the code that the council will be reviewing next week will help make it easier to understand and administrate. “I don’t know where the happy medium is” between strict enforcement and lax inattention to the code, she said.
Her favorite part of the job: interacting with her constituents, Winthrop’s residents. “I love talking to people, getting to know them, their thoughts, and their ideas about what they see for the town,” she said.
She and residents didn’t always agree, Langdalen said, but the conversations were valuable. Langdalen said she learned to accept that “some individuals, no matter what you say, are never going to be happy.”
City to country
Langdalen grew up in Seattle’s Green Lake neighborhood. She and Jim, who was raised in the Methow Valley, moved to Winthrop permanently 39 years ago. Winthrop took some getting used to for someone who grew up in the city, she admits, but adds that “I wouldn’t have raised my kids [two sons and a daughter] anywhere else.”
Jim was a barber; Sue worked as a waitress, at the post office, at the Mazama Store and for the town as a clerk. In 1986 she went to work at Farmers State Bank as a teller and was there for 29 years until her retirement.
“In those days that was the job to have,” she said this week. “I was worried that they wouldn’t like me, so I kept my waitressing job for a while.”
Langdalen served as mayor from 2002–2006. She later joined the town council and was elected mayor for a second time (unopposed) in 2013. Her husband and their daughter Tiffany also served terms on the council.
It’s not exactly a Bush-Clinton dynasty parallel, but between Sue Langdalen and former Mayor Dave Acheson (2006–2014), Anne Acheson’s brother, people named Langdalen or Acheson have been mayor of Winthrop for most of this century.
Council meetings were initially “hard for me” early on, Langdalen said. “I’m not an aggressive personality, but sometimes you need to intervene in meetings. If not, things get away from you.”
Indeed, Langdalen allowed a fair amount of flexibility in how town council meetings operate. “I tried to make you feel comfortable when you came in the door,” she said. But she could also react quickly and firmly when things strayed too far from order.
Langdalen praised the town hall staff for its professionalism and support in preparing to deal with town issues. “They have been wonderful to work with,” she said. “They know their jobs and I let them do their jobs.” Her only rule for the staff: “Don’t ever blindside me” with an unexpected problem.
Langdalen is departing with mixed feelings. “I hate to leave it now,” she said. “I love it and I’m going to miss it. We have so many irons in the fire and I won’t be able to see them through.”
Particularly important to her, Langdalen said, is completion of the Susie Stephens Trail and the Riverwalk, to get foot traffic away from Riverside Avenue. “The Riverwalk will be a huge benefit and attraction,” she said.
At the same time, she said, “I’m looking forward to behaving like a visitor.” The Langdalens own a home on Twin Lakes and expect to make frequent forays back to the valley, she said.
“It’s been a fantastic journey,” Langdalen said. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”