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MEEKER — Just because he is the newest member of the Meeker Town Board doesn’t mean he is a newcomer.
Rod Gerloff, who was sworn in Wednesday night, has been around since the late 1970s, when his family moved here from Texas during the oil shale boom.
They have been here ever since.
“My parents moved us here with the oilfield boom, and we stayed,” Gerloff said. “We didn’t consider ourselves short-term people. We were changing homes. This was going to be our new home. We’ve always considered Meeker home.”
Gerloff, a 1985 graduate of Meeker High School, has seen his adopted hometown change during the past 30 years.
“The politics I grew up with, it’s not the same now,” he said.
Asked what he meant, Gerloff said, “I have seen things somewhat change. I think sometimes change is tough. It seems like the politics … we don’t seem to be as open to business. I watch at the county level, just because it affects my businesses more. But it just seems like they are poking and prodding at things, and I don’t know if they are making it better or not.”
It’s not that Meeker is anti-business, Gerloff said. But there is an attitude that can be resistant to growth.
“I think there’s an aspect of Meeker that would like to stay more agricultural,” Gerloff said. “I don’t blame ‘em. Even though we are healthy right now, you don’t build communities to fail. If they stop growing, there’s a problem. That doesn’t mean you have to grow to a metropolis. But there are some benefits to growth, especially if people pay attention and manage the growth wisely.”
Not only can there be a resistance to change, Gerloff said, but there can be a resistance to outsiders or outside companies moving in to Meeker.
“I think it’s pro local business,” Gerloff said. “But it’s really reluctant to welcome the large companies with open arms, and they have a huge impact on the community with their employees.”
Gerloff’s father, Delton, once worked for one of those outside companies. He was with Occidental Petroleum when he moved his family here in the late ‘70s.
“He came here to work in the oil shale development,” Gerloff said. “They were promising your kids will be working out of here. Four years later, it was done. But dad’s not one to move. He did everything he could to stay here. He worked for different construction companies, picked up side work. He did different things, just so he could stay. It was pretty important to him to have the family grounded.”
Through the ups and downs of the economy during the past three decades, Meeker has been home for Gerloff. His parents now own and operate Clark’s Big Burger restaurant. And Gerloff married a local girl, Suzanne Carstens. They are raising their three children — ages 19, 17 and 10 — here.
Gerloff has experienced firsthand the cycle of the oil booms and busts. So he understands why locals may be wary of outside companies moving in and promising they are here to stay. He has seen big companies pack up and move out, leaving the town to deal with the loss of jobs, empty houses and deflated spirits.
“The energy companies create a really big up and down with everything,” Gerloff said. “During the last boom, we saw some things that weren’t managed very well. I think that was a pretty big wake-up call. We certainly don’t want to go and revisit some of those problems. Hopefully, we’ve learned that we have to manage this differently.”
Despite the recent financial news, Gerloff thinks Colorado, and the northwest part of the state in particular, is fairly well insulated from the economic factors affecting many other parts of the country.
“Everybody talks about the recession, but from a state perspective all the way down to the county and the town, if there’s anyplace that can recession-proof itself, Colorado is it,” Gerloff said. “I’ve heard the comments the oil and gas companies are all pulling out. Well, that’s not what I’ve been hearing. If you factor in all of the technologies going on on the eastern slope, and the energy development on the western slope, we might be able to set ourselves up to rebuff this talk of recession.”
Gerloff hopes that is the case. As owner of High Country Portables, he has a vested interest in the local economy. In the past year, he also took over a second business, Document Security Interests, or DSI.
As a business owner, he understands the challenges of taking a start-up company and trying to make it successful. He hopes his experience as a businessman will serve him well on the town board.
“I hope to bring the perspective of a small business person who lives in the community,” Gerloff said. “I just want to make sure, from my perspective, that I am doing everything I can to represent the people.”
Mayor Mandi Etheridge welcomed Gerloff to the board.
“I’m looking forward to having Rod serve as a trustee for the town,” Etheridge said. “I’m pleased that the interest is out there to serve the community, and I know he will bring a community-minded perspective to the board.”
Gerloff replaces Chis Ham, who moved to Grand Junction, on the town board. However, this isn’t his first entry into local politics. He ran for county sheriff previously, but lost. He said it was a learning experience.
“That was a big deal for us as a family,” said Gerloff, who formerly worked in law enforcement, both with the Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Office and the Meeker Police Department. “We didn’t know how we’d fare. It stressed us out pretty good. I really didn’t think I would get back into anything, except maybe a committee or a group.”
But one day Gerloff was in Town Hall and decided to inquire about the vacancy on the town board.
“I was paying my water bill and I asked if anybody had put their name in for the seat yet, and nobody had, which I thought was kind of unusual and discouraging,” Gerloff said. “So I thought, if it’s not too late, I’d put my name in.”
He will serve the remaining two years on the term. Beyond that, he hasn’t decided.
“Who knows, maybe it will be a two-year thing,” Gerloff said. “If things go well, I’ll probably run again. But two years is a long time. People will either like what I have to offer, or they won’t. I’m sure somebody in Meeker will let me know.”