Would provide temporary coverage while town considers enforcement options
By Don Nelson
The Town of Winthrop is pursuing an agreement under which the Twisp Police Department will temporarily provide law enforcement services while Winthrop is again without any police officers of its own.
Winthrop Marshal Hal Henning was fired by Mayor Anne Acheson on Feb. 22, after Henning submitted a formal complaint against the mayor to the town council. Acheson has the sole authority to hire and fire department heads.
At last week’s council meeting, Acheson said Winthrop and Twisp were working toward an agreement under which Twisp would share an officer with Winthrop for 10 hours a day, seven days a week. Twisp, which has had two police officers for the past several years, recently hired a third officer, an entry-level deputy who will soon return from the police training academy.
Twisp Mayor Soo Ing-Moody and Police Chief Paul Budrow confirmed that discussions were under way. “We’re waiting for their response. We’re willing to help with the coverage they need,” Ing-Moody said.
Before Henning was hired in June 2016, Winthrop had been without any police officers since Acting Marshal Ken Bajema resigned in late 2015, and had relied on assistance from other local law enforcement agencies. Winthrop hasn’t had two officers working at the same time for the past two years. Henning had recommended a candidate for the open position of deputy marshal, but Acheson rejected that choice.
Acheson said in an interview that the town will continue its search for candidates to fill the two marshal’s office vacancies.
At the same time, Acheson said it’s likely that the towns will again pick up discussion of a possible merger of their police departments — an idea that has periodically come up for discussion but has never gained traction in the past. “There’s interest in talking from the Winthrop perspective,” Acheson said. “I don’t know when that will be or what it will look like.”
Henning’s firing was the culmination of several months of disagreements about his performance between the marshal and Acheson, and before that between the marshal and former Mayor Sue Langdalen.
Langdalen hired Henning when she was still in office. In her last review of Henning’s performance before she resigned, Langdalen gave the marshal low ratings in several performance areas. In a response, Henning disputed the findings on which Langdalen based her review.
Henning’s complaint against Acheson asserted a breach of contract by the town because, the marshal said, he had been assured of complete authority over his department when he was hired by Langdalen.
However, Henning said in his complaint against Acheson, full authority was never extended and the mayor frequently interfered with the operation of the marshal’s office. Henning also alleged that the confrontations with the mayor created a hostile work atmosphere, and that he was not allowed to properly supervise the police clerk.
Under the state’s whistle blower statute, Henning’s complaint against Acheson will be investigated to determine the validity of his assertions. In this case, that investigation will likely be handled by a third party because the complaint was filed against the mayor, who cannot investigate it herself.
A whistleblower complaint filed against former Marshal Rikki Schwab by former deputy Mark Harreus 2015 was investigated by then-mayor Langdalen, who rejected most of the claims.
In an interview last week, Henning said he filed the complaint reluctantly, and that he would welcome his job back.
At the March 1 Town Council meeting, several dozen people showed up to praise Henning’s performance and question his firing. Because the firing was a personnel action, Acheson said she was restricted in what she could say about it. Some audience members suggested that the council remove Acheson from the mayor’s position, and rescind the firing. But the council has the authority to do neither.
At last week’s council meeting, former council member Vern Herrst submitted the text of what he said was a petition he was circulating in town with the heading “Declaration of No Confidence.” In part, the petition asserts that the mayor and council members “have demonstrated by your action and inaction that you do not have the security, safety and happiness of those whom you were elected to govern and serve in your best interest.” The petition requests that Acheson and all council members resign.
Herrst said he will bring copies of the petition and signatures he gathers to the April 5 council meeting.
In other business, the council:
• Agreed to interview candidates to fill the position vacated when longtime council member Gaile Bryant-Cannon resigned effective April 1. The interviews will be conducted at the April 5 council meeting. It’s likely a new council member will be chosen after an executive session to discuss all the applicants. Anyone interested in the open position can contact Town Hall at 996-2320. Applicants must be town residents.
• Appointed council member Bob DeHart to act as mayor pro tem when Acheson is not available.
• Learned that the Visitor Information Center, operated under a contract with the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce, is looking for a manager. Chamber President David Gottula, general manager of the Okanogan County Electric Cooperative, said that anyone interested in the part-time position should contact him at his work number, 996-2228.
• Agreed to renew its contract with the Chamber of Commerce to provide marketing services for the town, using hotel/motel occupancy taxes the town collects. Kristen Smith is the chamber’s marketing director. The contract, for $35,000 paid from the town to the chamber, comes up for renewal every year.
Winthrop council switches meeting time
The Winthrop Town Council will go back to meeting at 7 p.m. starting with its April 5 meeting. The council typically meets the first and third Wednesday of each month in the Hen House room at the Winthrop Barn.