Two longtime Pelican area residents square off for county seat serving west Otter Tail

Incumbent Wayne Johnson of Pelican Rapids and rural Erhard resident Jeff Gontarek are campaigning for the county board position in District 2.

This district includes 13 townships and the communities of Elizabeth, Erhard, Pelican Rapids and Vergas.

Johnson, since 1993, has operated a septic business.

It was first a small septic pumping business and Johnson grew the business into design, installation, inspection and portable toilet rentals.

He previously lived and worked on a family dairy farm.

Gontarek, for the past 23 years, has served Otter Tail County as the community service specialist and DWI court surveillance/training officer for the county Probation Department.

He also has served the county as a correctional officer and water patrol officer.

Both Johnson and Gontarek have been meeting with District 2 residents and discussing issues that the five-person county board of commissioners will face in future years.

More about Jeff Gontarek

This District 2 candidate sees key issues facing the county board as increasing tourism, preserving aquatic health, assisting townships, supporting area farming operations and working to enhance economic development.

“I’ve lived in District 2 in Otter Tail County for the majority of my life,” Gontarek said. “In 1975 my family moved to this county and I was raised on a resort on one of our beautiful lakes.”

He emphasizes that he has seen the county operate physically and financially, both as a constituent and employee.

“With nearly 25 years of experience serving Otter Tail County, I am uniquely qualified to serve as a voice for the people of District 2 as a county commissioner.”

Gontarek and his wife, Joannie, have a son who began high school this fall.

“We benefit from the beauty of our county by enjoying fishing, boating, canoeing, hiking, gardening and biking,” he said. “We’ve been privileged to hunt on public land and private land through the generosity of landowners and farmers in Otter Tail County.”

He says, if elected, he will use his knowledge and experience for the benefit of citizens in District 2 and all of Otter Tail County.

“I will have a strong presence in area townships and communities and will be an active voice for continuing needs,” Gontarek said.

He has volunteered for guided fishing trips for youth at Kamp Kacee and Lutheran Island Camp. The candidate is also a volunteer youth firearm safety instructor and has served as a summer youth baseball coach,

“This volunteer experience has provided me an opportunity to continue to empower our youth and help guide them into adulthood,” Gontarek said.

More about Wayne Johnson

“Nearly all business owners I talk to say they need workers, and along with that is the need for housing and child care,” Johnson said.

“We have an incredible shortage in labor force. Workers won’t come here to work if they don’t have somewhere to live. We want them to live here, stay here and have families so children fill our schools.”

However, Johnson adds that child care is scarce.

“It keeps many new workers away. This is a terrific place to live, work and raise a family, but we have very little available for starter homes.”

Johnson said that continued efforts are needed to preserve lakes, rivers and streams.

“Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) are a huge concern,” he said. “We need to work with the DNR to slow the spread and hopefully find a treatment for the invasive species that are here or are at our door.”

Broadband access is another key issue, according to Johnson.

“We have a large area of our county that is under-served regarding high speed internet. Some of our providers have made huge strides in moving forward with plans to put fiber to the door, but others are lagging way behind and really have no plan to increase speeds or service.

“We need to find ways to get those areas high speed affordable internet access.”

Johnson is a Pelican Rapids native who graduated from NDSU in Fargo with a degree in mathematics and computer science. 

He and his wife, Dena, have two adult children, Ian and Grace. 

Both Wayne and Dena are involved in multiple civic and church boards. They enjoy attending high school events, gardening, hobby farming and SCUBA diving.