OFFICIALS PRAISE DJ GEHRT AS HE LEAVES PLATTE CITY
Long after DJ Gehrt is relishing retirement, his work will remain relevant and even obvious throughout the community he served, according to those who worked by his side.
The 12-year administrator of Platte City, who officially retires as of June 30, was a professional at communicating and collaborating with nearby entities to accomplish public works projects beyond what most smaller cities could hope to attain, said former Mayor Frank Offutt, who worked with Gehrt during several years of his tenure in the city of about 5,000 residents.
Offutt listed major highway improvements, such as the one that was recently funded and will create a four-lane road on Hwy. 92 from Interstate 29 east to Bethel Road. The roadwork will support a two million square foot commerce center, a large private development north of Hwy. 92 and east of Interstate 29.
Gehrt has also been heavily involved in the new City Hall and police headquarters being built near downtown on Marshall Road.
Numerous other projects have been concluded during Gehrt’s tenure.
“They’ll be talking about this for years,” Offutt said during a recent telephone interview.
Word of Gehrt’s abilities has reached beyond Platte City. His ability to join together with officials from entities such as the Mid-America Regional Council, the Missouri Highway Department, the Missouri Department of Transportation, the Platte County School District and Platte County, has drawn admiration from local leaders, Offutt said.
“It is truly amazing he was able to bring so many people to the table and bring this coalition together and make the (Hwy. 92) funding a reality,” Offutt said.
Gehrt, 60, said he’s proud of the $24 million in county, state, federal and private grants, and cost-sharing he has secured to help finance such infrastructure additions and improvements. His work also garnered attention from officials with the Missouri City Manager’s Association in 2017, when they presented him with the Jay T. Bell Award, the highest award given by the organization. He joins only about 45 Missouri city administrators to receive the honor in the past 50 years.
Gehrt’s accomplishments are even more impressive, Offutt said, given the city administrator acts as the city’s top official while the mayor serves mainly as a figurehead.
Offutt said leaders of other communities in the area often are left scratching their heads about Gehrt’s large, expensive projects and asking, ‘How did that happen?'”
Current Platte City Mayor Tony Paolillo said he worked alongside Gehrt as an alderman before being elected mayor and described Gehrt’s service as “stellar.” He echoed Offutt’s comments about Gehrt’s success finding money for large projects and said he “has contacts and knows the people to ask for matching funds.”
Gehrt said he’s proud of his role in another project–partnering with the Platte County School District, the Missouri Department of Transportation, and other entities to create a four-lane street on Kentucky Ave. to serve the new Compass Elementary, and the rebuilt Kentucky Ave./Hwy. 92 intersection serving QuikTrip and McDonald’s.
Platte City aldermen already have officially named Gehrt’s successor, Marji Gehr, who, was named finance officer in 2014 and assistant city administrator in 2016. She has been serving as acting administrator since March when Gehrt announced his retirement.
Gehrt has been training Gehr. He said Gehr offers “the best of both worlds.” He described her position at City Hall as “knowing what we’re doing,” while also having “a fresh set of eyes.”
Many people, including those who know him, may not realize that Gehrt was an athlete in high school and college, where he lettered in track during high school before attending St. Louis University on academic scholarships, where he also ran cross country and played basketball. However, he downplayed any inherent athleticism, saying he was a “practice player” in basketball since the university was a Division I school and needed a full roster with many players in order to continue to qualify. “I don’t want anyone to think I was actually a Division I athlete,” he said.
He earned a double major, a B.A. in urban affairs and philosophy. He also earned a master’s in public administration from the University of Virginia.
Gehrt and his wife Teresa McCarthy, a retired Marine who achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, live in rural Clinton County, where they raise and show quarter horses.
Gehrt said he considers the couple’s hobby as his wife’s “passion” in which he’s a willing participant. Growing up in Iowa, horses and riding were always part of his life.
Gehrt also served in the Marine Corps for eight years until he was honorably discharged, having suffered an infection during non-combative evacuation mission in Liberia. The couple had met during their military service while he was undergoing medical treatment and she was working at a base in Washington, D.C.
He also worked for the International City Management Association in Afghanistan as a civilian for about 19 months and worked in local government in California.
During his public officials’ career, which included a stint as city administrator for a decade in Plattsburg in Clinton County, he has held himself to an unwritten list of standards, including making information about projects easily accessible to residents, from the planning process to project completion.
He has been very aware of the importance of making project packets available to residents and believes this has established “a bank account of trust” with citizens. Another involves admitting to mistakes, which he has discovered makes residents “more willing to be understanding,” establish “slowly but surely” a “bank account of trust.”
Gehrt said he is disappointed to leave at least one project incomplete at the time of his retirement: the city’s wastewater treatment plant needs updates and expansion to manage the city’s current and future growth. Gehrt said he has applied for several grants to help finance the improvements, but the money has not yet been awarded.
Gehrt and his wife have been discussing his list of retirement projects, which they dub “not just a to-do list but a book with chapters.”