Faces current council member for position 1
By Don Nelson
Anne Acheson is ready for the obvious question: Why — after serving on the Winthrop Town Council, then being appointed mayor, and then resigning as mayor after the public dust-up over her firing of former Marshal Hal Henning — would she want to run for a seat on the council again?
Her opponent in the Nov. 7 general election for position 1 on the Town Council, Kirsten Vanderhalf, has some empathy for what Acheson went through as mayor, having served as chair of the town’s Westernization Design Review Board as that group worked long and hard on updating the Westernization code.
Vanderhalf also has a bit of perspective of what it’s like to serve on the Town Council. She was appointed to fill a council vacancy, in position 4, on Sept. 7. If she loses to Acheson in the position 1 race, Vanderhalf will be off the council.
Position 1 is the only seat being contested. The rest of the Town Council races are bit confusing to follow. William Kilby is running unopposed to fill position 4, which Vanderhalf now holds. Joseph O’Driscoll, who recently was appointed to the position 1 seat vacated when council member Rick Northcott was appointed mayor, is running unopposed for the position 2 seat now held by Mike Strulic, who is not seeking re-election.
Northcott, who is not seeking re-election, was appointed mayor to replace Acheson after she resigned. Council member Bob DeHart, who now holds council position 5, acted as mayor pro tem between Acheson and Rick Northcott. DeHart is running for mayor against Sally Ranzau, which means DeHart is giving up position 5. That seat is being sought by Bill McAdow, who is running unopposed. Current council member Ben Nelson is running unopposed to continue filling position 3, which he now holds.
But back to position 1, and Acheson’s answer.
Acheson says she remains “committed to the town and community” and wants to remain involved. “I have a unique set of experiences and skills … I can offer continuity,” she said.
Acheson’s resignation in June followed several months of often acrimonious discussion among town residents and city council members about Acheson’s decision to fire Henning. She had announed in May that she would not seek re-election as mayor but would instead run for a council seat. “It was not an easy decision, but it was the right decision,” she said.
Acheson said she resigned as mayor with the hope that “forward progress would be regained.”
Acheson has attended several council meetings recently and said she is concerned about budget issues the council is addressing.
For instance, she said, the town doesn’t seem to have a plan for finding a more-permanent location for the marshal’s office, now headquartered in a leased building on Riverside Avenue. “They [the council] still don’t know where to put the marshal’s office,” she said. “It’s not clear that there’s a desire to address that issue, and it could be another year lost.”
Staffing and town facility needs are intertwined and “need to be addressed together,” she said.
“It’s important that the mayor have staffing flexibility,” Acheson said.
The public works department needs the offer competitive salaries to attract employees, she said. And the town needs to establish an operational reserve that it does not now have. “You always want to have something to fall back on,” she said.
Other priorities, she said, are continued progress on town trails and the proposed Riverwalk, and implementation of the town’s comprehensive plan. As to the Westernization code, Acheson said there are “elements I don’t agree with” and “it is still complaint-driven, which gives it an uneven feeling … we don’t want it to be a stick.”
With a wholesale change in the Town Council coming, Acheson said, “a new direction may come … no one individual should drive the direction. The community should drive the direction.”
“People know where I stand,” Acheson said of her council candidacy. “Some people will have their minds made up, and others won’t.”
Acheson ran unopposed in 2015 to fill the council position vacated by Vern Herrst, who did not seek re-election. Before running for the council position, Acheson was on the town’s planning commission for several years. Her brother Dave Acheson served two terms as Winthrop’s mayor.
Acheson is the office manager for TwispWorks. Before moving to the Methow Valley in 2008, she was a procurement systems analyst at The Boeing Co., where she worked for 22 years.
Vanderhalf said her experience on the Westernization board prompted her interest in the town council. “It was really frustrating to get anything through,” Vanderhalf said in an earlier interview. “I want to help move things along, and there are lots of things that need more attention.”
In a recent interview, Vanderhalf said that she “felt like there wasn’t enough information being exchanged between the council and the audiences, and the town.”Serving on the council, she said, “is for the town, not the for the six people who are sitting at the [council] table.”
Vanderhalf said her sudden immersion in council action has been “like learning the encyclopedia in a week.” She said that “there is a lot of knowledge at that table … different experiences and backgrounds.”
As the council drills down into the 2018 budget, Vanderhalf said, the group needs to consider issues like increasing pay levels for some staff positions. “We have to address that,” she said. “Employee retention is difficult.”
Vanderhalf said the council and staff need to work more closely with businesspeople who are “the lifeblood of our town.”
“We need better communication so they feel involved or included,” she said.
While observing that Acheson’s handling of the marshal’s firing “rubbed people the wrong way,” Vanderhalf said that “I’m not sure she got the support she needed in that position … the council needs to support the mayor.”
Stablizing the town’s police force is a major issue, Vanderhalf said. As for the Riverwalk project, she said it’s important to get more “buy-in” from affected property owners.
Vanderhalf has lived in Winthrop for about 4 1/2 years, but has been a lifelong visitor to the Methow Valley. She is the partner of Paul Gann, owner of North Valley Lumber, where she works part-time. She also is a substitute teacher at Methow Valley Elementary School, and has been involved as a volunteer in several local organizations, including Methow Valley Riding Unlimited, Classroom in Bloom and Little Star Montessori School.
Vanderhalf said her love for the community is part of her motivation for running. “I can’t believe I live somewhere that looks like the postcard in my brain,” she said.