Candidates disagree about town operations, priorities
If yard signs were votes, then the race between incumbent Soo Ing-Moody and Vern Nations for Twisp mayor would be too close to call.
But the Okanogan County auditor will count secret ballots, not the overtly public signs that in some Twisp neighborhoods jockey for attention from nearly every single property. Registered voters within the town limits of Twisp and across Washington state start receiving their ballots next week for the Nov. 5 general election.
The choice for mayor in Twisp offers a sharp contrast. Ing-Moody, 50, was born in Canada, has two master’s degrees, and is fluent in Chinese and German. Her yard signs say, “Proven leadership for the future.”
Nations, 59, was raised in Sedro-Woolley and moved to the Methow Valley 30 years ago. He has held supervisory positions since the age of 23, including in his former role as transportation manager for the Methow Valley School District, and currently as fleet maintenance manager for Gebbers Farms.
Nations’ yard signs promise “a common sense approach.”
Ing-Moody seeks her third full term as mayor. She was originally appointed to the post in October 2010, after Mayor Bill Boosman resigned. Ing-Moody became Twisp’s fourth mayor in less than two years, a run that started when Nations resigned suddenly in December 2008.
Ing-Moody, who moved to the Methow Valley in 2000, operated a bed-and-breakfast with her husband, Michael, early in her career as mayor. She says she now treats the mayor’s job as full-time.
“I never clock out, I can tell you,” she said.
Nations had been mayor for three years before he submitted a resignation letter to council members on Dec. 8, 2008 — effective that day. The reason Nations resigned wasn’t reported at the time. In an interview on Sept. 30, Nations said he resigned due to the time commitment required in his new job with Gebbers Farms in Brewster.
Nations still works for Gebbers Farms, overseeing more than 30 employees and some 900 vehicles. If he is elected, Nations said, his employer will give him the flexibility he needs to conduct the town’s business.
Ing-Moody ran unopposed in 2011 and 2015. Nine years into her tenure as mayor, she has her first challenger in Nations, who said he seeks to return to the mayor’s office because people asked him to run.
“A lot of the people in the community came and talked to me, and asked me if I was interested in running,” Nations said. “It was quite a few, to be honest with you, and I thought, ‘Well, I might as well.’”
Nations did not mention any names, but he did say some of the people who asked him to run were town employees.
Nations has some big-picture ideas for Twisp, including an interest in getting the town’s old, leaking swimming pool “fixed for good.” But he has just as much to say about day-to-day operations in town hall — or more to the point, in the Public Works building on the south end of town.
Fire hydrant issue
“I have a lot of concern about just the regular nuts and bolts around town,” Nations said.
He cited the fire hydrant on Methow Street that broke when firefighters tried to connect to it during a house fire on Aug. 6. Fire District 6 Chief Cody Acord has said that firefighters had to find the next-closest hydrant and lost valuable time in their attack. (Witnesses said the house became fully involved within a minute after it caught fire. The broken hydrant likely was not the reason the house ended up being a total loss.)
“To my knowledge, the fire hydrants haven’t been maintained since I was mayor,” Nations said.
In response, Ing-Moody said fire hydrant maintenance only began in earnest three years ago.
“There is no record of any flushing or flow testing of hydrants prior to three years ago because we did not have the flow-testing equipment before then,” Ing-Moody said in emailed responses to some of Nations’ statements.
“Since then, we have been systematically flow testing and flushing hydrants townwide, have already replaced 13 hydrants in that time and will continue to replace about 12 more over the next two years. According to our public works, that is more hydrant replacements than the past 75 years together,” Ing-Moody said.
Nations also said the snowplowing regimen has declined over the past few years.
“I could go on for hours,” Nations said. “Just general maintenance, I think, has kind of fallen off over the years.”
Mayor cites maintenance
Ing-Moody disputed her challenger’s account.
“There has been more concentrated maintenance done within the past several years than in recent memory,” she said. “Any member of staff will attest to being busier than ever with all the maintenance projects underway.”
Nations’ dissatisfaction with town operations suggest he might make staff changes.
“I make those decisions after I work with people for a while,” Nations said. “I’m not going to walk through the door and start firing people. I’ve heard good and bad from a lot of city people, but I will make that decision on my own.”
Nations said his current role as a supervisor at Gebbers Farms would serve him well as mayor. Not only does he supervise a staff larger than the town’s staff; the company’s budget for vehicle maintenance is four times larger than Twisp’s budget.
If elected, Nations said he would continue on the path he started during his tenure, improving the town’s streets, and water and sewer infrastructure. He mentioned new sidewalks and new water lines on Highway 20 and Second Avenue. Glover Street was resurfaced during his term, and the Public Development Authority that launched TwispWorks happened under his watch.
“I’m pretty impressed with what they did with this TwispWorks,” he said. “I didn’t imagine when we bought it that it would grow into what we got now.”
More recent improvements to the town’s infrastructure are main talking points for Ing-Moody’s campaign. The mayor said the town has put together $15 million worth of infrastructure projects over a five-year period, mainly improving roads, water lines and sewer lines. Most of that money came from state and federal grants or loans.
Ing-Moody received favorable attention for her leadership during the massive wildfires of 2014 and 2015, including recognition from U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell as a Woman of Valor. With an eye toward improving communications during emergencies, Ing-Moody lobbied in Olympia early this year for the funds to build a new civic building — a combination town hall and emergency operations center. The funding came through, and Ing-Moody told attendees at a candidate forum last week that she anticipates breaking ground this spring.
Nations said the civic building, with its $3 million price tag, is overly ambitious.
“Not everyone is sold on this civic building,” he said. “It started off on the right foot … and it’s just grown into what it is now.” If the same amount of money had been committed to the town pool, “it would have been done by now,” he said.
Water and sewer rates
Nations said he would support a freeze on the town’s water and sewer rates. They increased from $60.80 per month in 2010, when Ing-Moody first took office, to $109.27 this year—a rate almost five times faster than inflation.
During the three years Nations held the mayor’s office, water and sewer rates went from $52.20 per month to $60.80 — 2.5 times faster than inflation.
The rates are set by Town Council, not directly by the mayor, but Nations said he would suggest the freeze in addition to a discount for senior citizens.
“I’ve heard a lot about (recent rate increases), and I’ve heard a lot from senior citizens,” Nations said. “Do we need a special rate for senior citizens? It’s probably worth looking into. Some cities have special rates for low-income people and seniors.”
Ing-Moody said the town’s water and sewer rates are somewhere in the middle of the pack when compared to other municipalities in Okanogan County. She also said budgeting by freezing is not sustainable.
Ing-Moody said she had staff research the recent history of water and sewer rates back in 2013, and she learned that periods when rates were frozen were followed by significant increases.
“That type of increase puts a tremendous burden onto our seniors and those with fixed incomes,” Ing-Moody said. “Instead of a balloon increase, we now have a plan to systematically repair and maintain our systems, while keeping rates as minimal as possible.”
Ing-Moody may have nine years of experience as mayor, but campaigning is something she had to learn this year. She and her supporters have been ringing doorbells in town for several weeks. Her goal is to talk to every registered voter in town.
“That’s the beauty of being in a small town,” she said. “I always welcome dialogue, and I enjoy talking to my constituents.”
Nations said he was making the rounds in town himself.
“I’ve lived here 30 years,” he said. “Most all the neighborhoods, I know a lot of the people who live there.”
Mike Fort, Ing-Moody’s campaign treasurer and her biggest single donor, said competition for the mayor’s job has been good for Twisp.
“I’m glad she has an opponent,” Fort said. “People can have conversations about where they want the town to go.”