Council votes 3-2 to accept two-month agreement
By Don Nelson
By the narrowest of margins, the Winthrop Town Council agreed last week to a contract under which the Town of Twisp will temporarily provide police services in Winthrop.
Because the contract bounced back and forth between Winthrop and Twisp town councils for review and approval over several weeks, what was once a three-month agreement will now only cover two months, through June 30.
At last week’s Winthrop Town Council meeting, Mayor Anne Acheson broke a 2-2 deadlock over whether to accept the contract by voting in favor of it.
Council members Rick Northcott and Ben Nelson, who had been sworn in only a few minutes earlier to fill a council seat vacated by the recent retirement of Gaile Bryant-Cannon, voted in favor of the contract. Council members Bob DeHart and Mike Strulic opposed it. Council member Kellen Northcott wasn’t present.
Under the contract, Winthrop will pay Twisp $17,000 a month for police coverage 10 hours a day, seven days a week. Acheson said earlier that the cost is about what Winthrop would pay for police services in the same period, with increased coverage.
Winthrop has been without any law enforcement officers since Acheson fired former Marshal Hal Henning on Feb. 22. Henning was the town’s only police officer at the time.
Twisp Police Chief Paul Budrow has said that his three-man department can’t provide law enforcement to Winthrop through the busy summer tourism season.
The contract approved by the Winthrop council last week will provide police protection until just before July 4, which is when the big surge of summer visitors to the Methow Valley usually begins. Before then, visitor traffic picks up after the North Cascades Highway is opened for the season. But this year, heavy snows have delayed clearing and opening of the pass until around Memorial Day, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.
At last week’s Winthrop council meeting, Acheson said the town is considering applicants for the vacant marshal’s position. But there was no assurance that the candidates could be vetted and interviewed, and a new marshal hired, by the time the short-term contract with Twisp expires.
Terms of contract
The Twisp council slightly altered the contract at its most recent meeting, specifying that Twisp police officers will provide emergency response to Winthrop only when they are on duty. Under the contract, Twisp officers will provide “basic response,” which means call about noise or other nuisances, while on duty. The officers will also provide “emergency response,” which means responding to incidents such as assault or domestic violence, also only while on duty.
Twisp police will split their 10-hour shifts between Twisp and Winthrop.
Both Ing-Moody and Acheson have indicated that the towns’ leaders are once again likely to begin discussing a possible merger of the two police departments, an idea that has come up periodically in the past.
At last week’s Winthrop council meeting, enthusiasm for the proposed contract had clearly waned while it was being shuttled back and forth between the towns. Council member Rick Northcott, who along with other Winthrop representatives had recently met with representatives from Twisp, said “I don’t think they [Twisp] are excited about doing this.” But the alternative, he said, is to continue without police protection.
“We can’t leave our town without enforcement,” Northcott said.
DeHart, who also met with Twisp representatives, said he “came away with a bad feeling about the whole thing.” As to the contract amount, DeHart said, “we’re not getting much for it,” and he suggested that the town save the money. “I didn’t get a warm and fuzzy feeling,” he said.
“Mayor Ing-Moody wants to help out,” Acheson responded. “She takes it seriously.” Acheson also noted that Winthrop can opt out of the contract after 30 days if it chooses to. The mayor pointed out that without a contract, Winthrop would have no police presence during ’49er Days this week or on Memorial Day weekend.
Nelson, who owns a business in Winthrop, said he had been contacted by other business owners who are concerned about the lack of police presence in the town. “Having someone 15 minutes away is better than nothing,” he said.