Morinville – Lloyd Bertschi has resigned as mayor of Morinville. Bertschi, who was in his fourth term as mayor and had previously spent two terms as a councillor, submitted his resignation in writing to Morinville’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO)Debbie Oyarzun Nov. 13. In the letter the former mayor cites out of town and out of province business commitments as the reason for his stepping down prior to the end of his term.
Bertschi’s recent absences from Morinville Town Council meetings have left the Deputy Mayors the task of chairing council meetings. That role was performed for much of the time by David Pattison and more recently by Nicole Boutestine who was recently sworn in as Deputy Mayor after Pattison’s term expired.
The Municipal Government Act disqualifies a member of council if they are absent for eight consecutive weeks following the first meeting missed; however, council may grant an extension to the leave of absence at that point. The Nov. 13 meeting marked eight weeks of missed meetings for the former mayor. The last Council meeting he attended was Sept. 11. As there is less than a year until the next municipal election there was no requirement for the community to hold a by-election to replace the mayor.
Sorry to step down
In an interview with The Morinville News Bertschi said he had requested of the CAO to see if Council would grant an extension; however, that extension was not in the cards. “I had Debbie [Oyarzun] talk to Council last week and they were not prepared to grant me an extension,” he said, adding he understands Council’s decision. “Quite frankly, I haven’t been around for five months. It was just good fortune not planning to be able to be at the meeting in September. It was in between jobs and I was home for seven days.”
Will keep busy with other work
With his Morinville Town Council days behind him, Bertschi will now manage the budgets of his own business.
The former mayor said he began a new business this past spring and was fortunate enough to get a contract straight away. “Not knowing where it was going or how successful it would be, I was reluctant to step down at that time,” Bertschi said. “It’s taken off like gangbusters and I’ve had some tremendous contracts, but unfortunately they take me out of town or out of province into Saskatchewan and all points in between. It’s just too far away to be able to drive in on a night and be back at work on site for six in the morning.”
For Bertschi the workload up north has not only prevented his being able to attend meetings where matters are voted on but also his involvement in the community where he received the feedback needed to make those decisions at the council level.
“The way I’ve always conducted myself is I was doing the will of the people, the residents of the town,” he said. “This was never about Lloyd’s agenda or Council’s agenda. It was what the people would tell me about. When you are not there you do not get the feedback. Whether it’s an event or the coffee shop or you are shopping at Sobeys or whatever the case may be, you don’t get that feedback.”
Bertschi said he has kept in touch with the CAO while away, he feels he was not able to participate at the level he expected of himself. “I set a really high bar as far as attendance at public functions and attendance at meetings, and regional meetings and some events,” he said. “I couldn’t maintain that. I could not conduct myself in the manner that I’d set for myself and what the community has come to expect.”
The job has not only kept Bertschi away from his duties as mayor – it has kept him away from his wife and family for weeks on end. Bertschi said he took possession of his new home in June and has slept in it only 20 nights over the past five-and-a-half months. The former mayor said his current work stint has kept him from home for the past five weeks, a period of time longer than his longest stretch doing the work of mayor.
“The impact on your family and your relationship doing this kind of thing is significant, and we understand that when we take this position on,” he said of his past political duties and commitments. “But the wives or the husbands never get the kudos. Who’s raising the family? Who’s shoveling the sidewalks? Who’s shopping for the groceries?” Bertschi said he was truly grateful for his wife Lisa’s support and commitment to the community during the 17 years he was involved on council. That understanding continues now that the former mayor is working up north. “I haven’t been home in five weeks. I was supposed to be off for four days and now I got a call and I have to be in Fort McMurray by Wednesday to start a 10-day shift,” he said. “Now it’s going to be almost eight weeks.”
Sorry to step down
The former mayor said his only regret in stepping down is being unable to complete his term of office. He feels the town is in great hands with the current Council and Administrative team and in his letter of resignation he thanked both for their efforts on the community’s behalf.
“Virtually everything I had envisioned for the community and what the community was telling me – we’ve accomplished it,” Bertschi said, adding he was not planning to run in 2013 but had wanted to complete his fourth term as mayor. “That’s the only regret that I have.”
Although pleased with what he and the councils he presided over for the past 11 years have accomplished, Bertschi said he is most fond of the many public events he has attended. Of those there are a couple that had quite a humbling effect on the former mayor. “The key to the city for 1 Service Battalion was one of the few times my breath has been literally taken away,” he said. “I couldn’t speak. I had a speech I was going to give at that session and I literally could not speak. It was absolutely phenomenal. Seeing that and being part of that was just incredible.” Another pleasant memory was being able to marry a couple of long-term friends. “Even though I’d been at the altar before on the other side of the coin, being up in front of the couple and the emotion that was involved in that was just absolutely unbelievable.”
Beyond the personal memories, Bertschi is proud of the accomplishments he and his councils have made getting Morinville fiscally sound. The former mayor said when he came on board the community had no money in its reserves, a situation that left the Morinville Fire Department in a bind at one point when it needed $600,000 to replace one of its units. “We didn’t have a penny in reserves for that,” Bertschi recalled. “We didn’t have a financial structure in place that would allow us to look ahead to see when big lumpy things need to be replaced. We didn’t have anything so much as an equipment replacement plan, never mind an overarching infrastructure management plan. Those are all in place now, all fully funded, and we shouldn’t have to borrow except for new facilities going forward.”
Reserves not in danger
The former mayor said residents shouldn’t worry about the prospects of draining the operational reserves to fund operational projects in 2013 because that is what the funds are there for. “We’ve got $12 or $14 million in Capital Reserves,” Bertschi said, adding the operational reserves are monies set aside for longer-term projects that were too expensive to do one year without compromising other projects. “We put some money into an operational reserve,” he said. “We knew this was going to be a two- or three-year process to do the park study for example. We could have done one park study but that doesn’t create a community synergy.”
Bertschi said by delaying the studies and putting money aside the Town of Morinville is now able to use reserves to do the studies holistically. Depleting reserves for long-term planning studies does not jeopardize emergency or capital projects. “If the arena roof leaks, we’ve got gobs of money to fix that,” he said. “That’s a capital project not an operating project. Doing studies for long-term planning is operational. Our capital budget is very well funded. Much like our water and sewer it is top shelf and fully funded for a 25-year lookout.”
He praised his Council colleagues for having the foresight to put money aside each year in reserves to fund operational projects like the upcoming parks studies.
But Bertschi also had words of praise for the community itself. “I can’t say enough about the support and the encouragement they’ve given me over the 11 years,” he said of his time as mayor. “One thing that you always want to do is leave the community better than you found it. I believe I’ve achieved that. If I look back during my time in office and we made the right decisions 75 percent of the time, I’ll be ecstatic.”