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Nine new councillors for Athabasca County

Three incumbents defeated; nine new councillors will be sworn in and a reeve chosen Nov. 1
Class of 2021_Ath County council
The newly elected Athabasca County council. Top: Division 1 - Joe Gerlach, Division 2 - Natasha Kapitaniuk, Division 3 - Ashtin Anderson Middle: Division 4 - Brian Hall, Division 5 - Tracy Holland, Division 6 - Gary Cromwell Bottom: Division 7 - Kelly Chamzuk, Division 8 - Rob Minns, Division 9 - Camille Wallach

ATHABASCA — If the goal of Athabasca County residents was to clean house in the Oct. 18, they did just that, electing six brand new councillors to join the three brand new councillors that had been acclaimed in September. 

Of the nine seats available, one was vacant pre-election, five were open as incumbents decided not to run and the three incumbents who did lost their bids for re-election, effectively turning over all nine seats around the table. Just one of them has sat around the council table before.

“It’s the first time in my life I can say I got more experience than everybody put together and it might actually be true,” Division 1 winner Joe Gerlach laughed during a post-election interview Oct. 19. He was previously on council from 1989 to 1999. 

While it may have been two decades since he sat on council, he is the only one with it on his resume. 

"It’s been like 20 years since I was on council before,” Gerlach said, recognizing he is now the senior member. “And by the ages of most of them, they wouldn't have had too much interest 20 years ago.” 

He is looking forward to working with the younger group though, knowing he is going to be the cornerstone, at least until the rest of the elected councillors are off and running. 

“Hopefully, we can just go forward cohesively and get off to a good strong start and pull together as a unit because there shouldn't be any reason to bring any baggage,” Gerlach said. “And once people fit in and start to express their ideas a little more freely; I'm kind of excited about a fresh start like that.” 

Incumbent candidate Dwayne Rawson wished Gerlach and the rest of the council the best. Gerlach garnered 174 votes to Rawson’s 115 with Buster Malcolm coming in a distant third with 17 votes. 

“It was a pleasure working with my council and I wish all the new councillors the best,” he said Oct. 19. “And I thank everyone who supported me.” 

Rawson said he does have one request for the incoming council though. 

“I do hope that Athabasca County and council stay involved with the Alberta Community Crime Prevention Association,” he said. “I was on the board as a councillor and I hope one of the new councillors will step up to the plate and deal with this because rural crime can’t be forgotten about.”  

In Division 2 newcomer Natasha Kapitaniuk beat out incumbent Dennis Willcott to end his 11-year run on council. 

Kapitaniuk won with 146 votes to Willcott’s 102. 

The night of the election she issued a statement thanking her supporters. 

"It has been incredible to not only reconnect with people during the campaign, but meet new friends in my community," she said. "We have an exciting future with such passionate and engaged citizens in Athabasca County." 

Willcott also thanked his supporters Oct. 21. 

“I want to thank all my supporters across the county, I had many people who weren’t in Division 2 but also supported me,” he said. “I wish all the new councillors good luck and it was a fair campaign.” 

He added he can now say he’s fully retired and is looking forward to new opportunities. 

In Division 3, Ashtin Anderson was acclaimed. 

For Division 4, Brian Hall topped the list with 169 votes to 98 for Keith Plowman and 81 for Brian Bahry. 

On election night Plowman congratulated his fellow candidates in all divisions and to Hall for winning. 

"Congratulations to all the successful candidates," he said in an e-mail after the results were posted. "In Division 4 specifically, congratulations to Brian Hall on a great campaign and to Brian Bahry for a hard-fought race. A big thank you to all who voted for me. It really means a lot that you chose to put your trust in me." 

Hall sent a statement of thanks to his fellow candidates and supporters. 

“I’d like to thank Brian Bahry and Keith Plowman for their willingness to put themselves forward to serve the county," said Hall. 

“I’d also like to thank the residents of Division 4 who took time to meet and talk with me over the past number of weeks. I have thoroughly enjoyed the many discussions while campaigning. I look forward to representing you on council, to continuing to hear from you, and to seeing you in the community. Thank you for your confidence.” 

Bahry also had a few words for his fellow candidates and those who were elected. 

“I want to thank Christi Bilsky for her 11 years on council; I think she did a great job. Congratulations to Brian Hall and I think he’s a good candidate for reeve,” said Bahry. “He’s got leadership experience and he’s a thoughtful person. I’d also like to thank Keith Plowman for a well-run campaign. The whole thing was cleanly run.” 

Tracy Holland was acclaimed in Division 5 and wished congratulations Oct. 22 to all elected representatives across Athabasca County, the Town of Athabasca and Aspen View Public Schools board of trustees.

"Thank you to all those who voted, you were heard. I will work as hard as I can and give my best to make Athabasca County’s future as bright as it can be. I would also like to extend a huge thank you to all of you who have given me your support. To our councils in this last term, thank you all so much for your vision, leadership, hard work and many years of dedicated service," she said.

"I appreciate each and every person who puts Athabasca County first. I am truly honoured to have the opportunity to work with you all and to serve the rate-payers in not only Division 5 but throughout Athabasca County. I am super excited to get started, to bring your voice to the table and do what I can to ensure it is the welfare and interests of the municipality as a whole that will be the driver."

In Division 6 Gary Cromwell edged out Jack Dowhaluk by 30 votes — 131 to 101. 

As the final numbers were coming in to clinch his win, Cromwell e-mailed a statement thanking his supporters and what he hopes for the future: 

"To the people of Division 6 and all of Athabasca County, this has been a historical election. To have a turnover of councillors not returning has been an indication that the government is broken. The people have demanded change and will be holding the council and the county to a higher standard," he said. "I am truly excited for the opportunity for improvement and change. The old five vs. four alliances and teams are gone. We have an opportunity to prosper and encourage proper economic growth."  

Division 7 also saw incumbent Travais Johnson replaced. Kelly Chamzuk picked up 139 ballots to Johnson’s 81 and Donnie Kravontka gathered 35. 

"I'd like to thank all my fellow candidates who ran in this election and also send a heartfelt congratulations to those elected," Chamzuk said in a statement after the ballot numbers were posted online. "I would also like to thank all the past council members who have served our communities and county; your dedication is appreciated. I'm so very proud to be serving Division 7. Thank you for placing trust and supporting me. The next four years will be a whole lot of work and my position is to serve the people, division and county. Again, thank you for the opportunity and I'm looking forward to the challenge." 

Rob Minns commanded the win in Division 8 with 252 votes to challengers Ryan Breckenridge’s 92, Kendra Gilbert’s 30 and Chet Gilmore’s 25.

"I would like to thank voters in Division 8 for putting their trust in me to represent them and be their voice on County council. I am honoured," Minns said Oct. 22. "Congratulations as well to all the incoming council members. I am looking forward to working with you. As we form the new council for Athabasca County, I am excited and ready for the challenge of representing Division 8 and residents within the county. On my behalf, I would like to thank the previous council for their past service. I welcome your feedback on issues and invite you to contact me at any time."

Camille Wallach was acclaimed in Division 9 and all the councillors will be sworn in at the Nov. 1 organizational meeting. 

Heather Stocking

About the Author: Heather Stocking

Heather Stocking a reporter at the Athabasca Advocate, a weekly paper in Northern Alberta. Heather covers all aspects of the news in and around Athabasca and Boyle as well as other small communities.
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