Morinville's mayor stepped down this week after 11 years in office.
Lloyd Bertschi submitted his letter of resignation to chief administrative officer Debbie Oyarzun on Nov. 13. Bertschi has been mayor of Morinville since 2001, and served as a councillor from 1989 to 1995.
Bertschi has missed a number of council meetings in recent months – the last one he attended was on Sept. 11 – which meant he was at risk of being disqualified from office under the Municipal Government Act. That act says that any councillor who misses every council meeting in an eight-week period must resign.
In a phone interview, Bertschi said he started a new business in the spring doing industrial safety inspections (mostly for Enbridge) that has taken him out of town for months at a time.
Last Tuesday would have been his eighth week of missed meetings, he continued, so he asked council if he could have an extension. Council wasn't prepared to do that, so he tendered his resignation.
Bertschi said he's fine with council's decision.
"(Being) the mayor is more than just chairing the meetings," he said – it's attending functions, listening to residents and being in town, none of which he has been able to do recently.
Even though his new job forced the issue, Bertschi said he had planned to step down at the end of this term anyway.
"Twelve years as mayor and six years on council – that's enough."
In a tie vote Tuesday, council defeated a motion to hold a by-election for the mayor's chair, meaning they had to appoint one of their own to the job. Councillors Gordon Boddez and Paul Krauskopf were nominated. Boddez turned down the job, citing time restraints, so Krauskopf was sworn in as mayor – a job he will hold until next year's municipal election.
Bertschi's resignation came as a surprise to council, said Krauskopf.
"We thought he would be here last night."
Krauskopf said he was humbled council thought he would make a good mayor, and said he would keep the town on the same course that Bertschi had set.
"I have some big shoes to fill," he said.
His first priority is to pass this year's budget.
Bertschi applauded council's choice.
"Paul has been there the entire time I've been mayor," he said, "and he has a lot of experience."
17 years in office
Bertschi moved to Morinville in 1980. It had just 3,000 residents at the time, he recalled, no RCMP station, and a mostly vacant industrial park.
"The economy was absolutely in the toilet," he said.
Prompted by the town's decision to turn away a proposed racetrack, he ran for a seat on council in 1989 and won.
At the time, the town had just finished a major new water line and revamped much of its sewer system.
"We were probably bankrupt, but just too stubborn to admit it," he said.
During his time in office, Bertschi saw the town lose hundreds of residents with the closure of the Namao airbase, only to gain hundreds more when the base became the Edmonton Garrison. Morinville now has about 8,500 residents, according to its most recent census.
Elected mayor in 2001 with 63 per cent of the popular vote, he oversaw the creation of the town's splash park, centennial clock, and Community Cultural Centre, as well as significant growth in the town's industrial park.
"We did wake the town up," he said.
Bertschi was also active regionally, serving as president of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association for two years and as an active member of the Capital Region Board since its inception.
"It's just been incredible," Bertschi said of his time in office.
Some of the high points include meeting Prince Edward and his wife Sophie Rhys-Jones when they visited Alberta, Morinville's centennial and last year's Freedom of the City event for 1 Service Battalion – an event that left him at a loss for words.
"(It was) one of the most incredible and emotional things I've ever been to," he said.
One of the strangest moments of his career was probably the time when he had to kiss a cow, he said.
It was a fundraiser, he explained, where residents got to vote on which of a group of local celebrities would kiss a cow. He didn't win, but the crowd kept egging him on.
"So I planted a great big wet sloppy one right on the end of its nose," he said.
Bertschi said he regrets not being able to finish his last term in office and the continuing delays to the construction of the overpass at Cardiff Corner.
"It really needs to be addressed," he said of the latter.
He hoped he would be remembered for his work getting the town's finances in order.
"When I first came on board, we had zero money in reserves" and a fire truck on its last legs, he said. Now, the town has plenty of cash socked away, a solid infrastructure management plan and some of the newest fire trucks in the region.
Bertschi was a strong figure in the region and very giving of himself as a mayor, said St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse.
"His service to Alberta and to the region is unquestioned," Crouse said.
They didn't agree all the time, Krauskopf said, but he and Bertschi had a lot of trust and respect for each other on council.
"I wish him nothing but the best," Krauskopf said.
Bertschi said he has no plans to leave Morinville, but might not be as involved due to his business.
"I'm not going away, and I'll participate in different things whenever the opportunity presents itself," he said.
He thanked residents for their years of support.
"I hope they appreciate (my) efforts and that I didn't disappoint the trust they put in me."