Four years ago, Anne Koentopp was ready to vacate the Belgrade City Council seat she had held for a quarter century, but her innate sense of commitment derailed the plan.
She remembers going to the county election office on the final day to file for office, just to see if any other candidates would throw their hats into the proverbial ring.
“I waited 30 minutes, but nobody did,” she says.
Just before time ran out – a mere minute before the filing deadline – she submitted her own paperwork and ran unopposed in her seventh city council election. Her final term ended up being a busy one for the council as it navigated the significant growth occurring in the city during a strong, recovering economy.
Nevertheless, by filing day in 2019, “I pretty much had decided 29 years was enough,” Koentopp says. Any potential personal dilemma was averted when two candidates filed for last November’s Ward 1 race, and victor Mike Meis was sworn into office earlier this month, to Koentopp’s approval.
“He’s a good replacement because he knows the workings of the city and he knows what needs to be done to go forward,” she says, citing his experience with the Belgrade Chamber of Commerce. (A full profile of Meis was published in the Jan. 23 edition of the Belgrade News.)
Koentopp admits it was a little strange attending a council meeting as an observer rather than a decision-maker last week – after all, old habits die hard and “longevity is the name of the game for me.” In addition to her long stint on the council, she spent 27 years working for Barnard Construction before her retirement in 2017. She and her husband Kip have been married for 54 years.
“Over time, it was seeing things happening and wanting to stay in it to see how it came out,” she says of her reason for remaining on the council for so long.
When the couple and their two sons first moved to Belgrade from the Boise area in 1984, the town bore little resemblance to the bustling city it is today. Back then, Belgrade boasted 2,500 residents – roughly a quarter of its estimated current population – and city business was conducted in the old city hall building across the street from the Mercantile building, rather than in today’s modern City Hall.
Upon her arrival in Belgrade, Koentopp says, she was looking for a way to be involved and to get to know the community better. She volunteered to fill a vacancy on the school board, and when that term ended, she successfully ran for re-election to serve another term. Despite her background in education – she holds a degree in music education and taught both in her native Kansas and in Idaho – she found the school board experience “very stressful.” A couple of years later, however, she chose to submit her name for consideration when a Ward 1 city council vacancy was announced at the end of 1990. She served out that unexpired term, then was elected to the seat for the first time in 1991.
“The rest is history,” she says of the experience. “It’s been a wonderful 29 years.”
Koentopp says she was motivated to stay not only out of a desire to serve the community, but also a “deep-seated urge to make myself make decisions.” Over 29 years, some of those decisions would prove to be difficult.
“In 2008, things were moving along and subdivisions were coming in, then the economy came to a screeching halt,” she remembers. “It was really difficult. Impact fees quit coming in, and people quit moving here. It was at a standstill.”
The other event she found particularly difficult during that period was the death of City Manager Joe Menicucci in 2013.
“He was such a good leader and such a mentor,” she says, adding that Belgrade was fortunate to find “another wonderful manager” in Ted Barkley, whose tenure has coincided with the pickup in the stalled economy.
“I feel very lucky to have served with both men,” as well as police Chief E.J. Clark, who served as interim city manager before Barkley was hired. She credits all three with guiding the the city through ups and down on “kind of a rollercoaster ride over the years.”
The ups and downs Koentopp refers to include some contentious issues, such as community concerns brought forth some years ago over the number of bars and restaurants in town. She believes the policies and ordinances enacted to address those worries ended up being positive for all sides.
She focuses more on council successes, including upgrading the city water system, passing a public safety bond, establishing a tax increment financing district for downtown improvements, and creating street maintenance districts that made it possible to “get the whole town paved.”
Koentopp acknowledges that the business of the council may seem dry to some people, but she notes with some amusement that the house always was packed when business concerning “exotic animals or chickens” was on the agenda. Conversely, “The nights we passed multimillion dollar budgets, were there by ourselves,” she says.
Personal highlights for Koentopp included serving on the Library, Parks, and Planning committees. During her various tenures, the library expanded, and Parks Board members made it a policy to regularly visit and evaluate city parks and set priorities for them.
“We did a lot of things on a shoestring budget” such as installing playground equipment, signage and underground irrigation, she says. She believes the board’s work will be furthered if the city can successfully establish a park district in the near future.
Overall, she says that serving on the council was satisfying and personally rewarding.
“I felt that my constituents trusted me to do the right things and the best I could do,” she says. “I never had anybody give me any grief.”
Koentopp says she has confidence that the new council will continue its good work as it addresses such significant issues as sewer system expansion, widening Main Street, and other growth-related matters. She offered a special “atta boy” to Brad Cooper, who has served on the body longer than she, and to staff members in all the city departments.
She isn’t quite sure how she will spend her Monday nights going forward, but suspects she will head to City Hall “if something of importance comes up.”
She is optimistic about Belgrade’s future, and satisfied with having played a part in helping it develop as it has.
“I was proud to serve,” she says.