ATHABASCA — Joe Gerlach is not the only former councillor running for election in Athabasca County Oct. 18, but he is the only one with school board experience as well.
Gerlach was in a unique position when he was on council from 1989 to 1999, as during that time the schools were under county authority as well, so he was also a school board trustee continuing even after he left county council – from 1989 to 2011.
“I chaired the (school) board through regionalization,” Gerlach said in a Sept. 24 interview. “That was probably the toughest test that anyone would ever have to face; it was unbelievable.”
And while he thought his days of public service were over, the last few months made him concerned with the way things are going at the municipality.
“(There’s) an acting CAO (Chief Administrative Officer), there’s an acting superintendent of public works, which kind of indicated things aren’t going so well,” he said. “I know things can be done better.”
Gerlach said it was right up until the morning of Sept. 20, the last day he could put his name in before he made his decision.
“We know for sure there's going to be seven new faces around the table,” said Gerlach. “It's a completely different objective; let's not squander the opportunity to get a fresh start and get things back on track."
One of the reasons he is running is concern staff appear to be silent and there is too much cross control which should not be going on.
“The biggest problem I see is there’s too much turf protection,” he said. “The only way it can work is if everybody does their job and lets the other person do their job. But people seem to be muzzled; they know they’re not supposed to talk, but there needs to be open communication.”
Gerlach feels the choice of CAO is more crucial than who gets elected noting good leadership makes all the difference and cited the fortunate hiring of a school superintendent before regionalization made a world of difference.
“I just can’t see the system running without a real good CAO who really wants openness,” he said.
He would also like to have a rule that no motions can pass in the first six months on a 5-4 vote, saying new councillors need time to fully understand issues and margin votes may get full support if more discussion is allowed.
“There's absolutely nothing wrong with putting it off; giving people a week or until the next meeting,” said Gerlach. "Especially with new people that are just learning the ropes. It is surprising, it is a stiff learning curve.”
Other than those concerns, Gerlach said he does not have a real platform because he knows no matter what you think you want, if you run on one issue, you will be in for an awakening.
“(If) they just have one issue or a couple issues that they want to deal with they’ll find you're not going to go anywhere with a single issue or if there's axes to grind,” he said. "It's an opportunity to serve and man if you start out right and if you get it right, it makes a big difference.”
Gerlach will be competing in Division 1 against incumbent Dwayne Rawson and newcomer Buster Malcolm.