Acting marshal steps down, expresses frustrations
By Don Nelson
The Winthrop Marshal’s Office, which had a full complement of three full-time officers at the beginning of the year, will end 2015 with none.
Acting Marshal Ken Bajema, the sole remaining officer on the Winthrop force, recently sent a letter of resignation to the town, effective Dec. 22.
In a letter to the Methow Valley News, Bajema explained his reasons for departing and expressed frustration at how the department has been “micromanaged” during his five-and-a-half year tenure (see Winthrop’s police officers deserve more support, less micromanaging).
“I can’t continue to put my own safety at risk and can’t work solo without any help” for months at a time, Bajema said in an interview.
Bajema said there are operational issues related to the marshal’s office and “people should know what’s going on.” In his letter to the newspaper, Bajema cited examples of what he said were restrictions on the department’s ability to manage its own budget.
Mayor Sue Langdalen, who announced Bajema’s departure at last week’s town council meeting, said afterward that the town will continue to be protected by part-time officers, and that Winthrop will continue to search for a marshal and deputy. She said Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers has agreed to help find officers who can fill in, and that sheriff’s deputies assigned to the Methow Valley will also be available.
At a recent meeting, the town council agreed to Bajema’s suggestion to reduce the number of full-time officers from three to two in 2016 and shift money to a clerk position to help clear up a paperwork backlog.
At last week’s council meeting, council member Mike Strulic said he was “disappointed that Bajema left us … He’s a great cop and he really worked hard for us.”
This year’s departures continue a pattern of turnover in the marshal’s office. Former Marshal David Dahlstrom resigned in late 2013. Former deputy Seth Carlson resigned in December 2013 after being in the department for less than a year. Bajema filled in then as interim marshal. He did not apply for the marshal’s position.
At that time, the town council authorized Bajema to find part-time help. Bryan Alexander, a park ranger at Pearrygin Lake State Park, has periodically served in that capacity.
Rikki Schwab was named marshal in 2014 and resigned in July 2015 after a little more than a year in the office. Former deputy Mark Harreus left the force in February 2015. Bajema has been Winthrop’s only officer since Schwab’s departure, with assistance from officers from other local jurisdictions working part-time for the town.
Bajema was hired as a deputy in 2010 and completed his police academy training in 2011. This is the second time he has resigned from the Winthrop force. He left the marshal’s office last summer after Schwab was hired, but then was hired back in fall 2015 to fill one of the two vacancies at that time.
Schwab’s resignation prompted a discussion about whether the Twisp and Winthrop police departments should merge their operations. Twisp made a merger proposal to the Winthrop Town Council earlier this year, but Winthrop declined the offer.
After she resigned last summer, Schwab said she didn’t think it necessary to merge with the Twisp Police Department if the marshal’s office is given the support it needs. “I’m not so sure it’s a good idea but I understand why they would want to look at it,” she said.
“Winthrop can function on its own,” Schwab added. “I think it works better with each town having their own schedule. I hope the town doesn’t give up on having a good police department.”
Schwab said she was frustrated because “some council members will not refrain from tearing the police department down … I felt like it was a battle for things that just make common sense.”