John Wilson-Councilor Critiquesmayor's Tactics


Maybe other fifth-graders wanted to be astronauts and football heroes and rock stars -- but not John Wilson.

No doubt about it, decided the 10-year-old.

He wanted to be an accountant.

Even now, he admits that's weird. "I just like crunching numbers. I really don't know why."

Perhaps it was because numbers existed in a world that was elegant, predictable and logical -- a world in which your father wouldn't die from a blood clot after having his appendix out and your mother wouldn't die nine months later from an infected tooth.

But that's the world to which Wilson had to adapt at the age of five, living on the bereft family farm in Northern Illinois with his two spinster schoolteacher aunts and his cousin.

So he collected the eggs, ran down the rows of corn, fed the pigs and played with numbers in his head. He also developed asthma -- "a large part of it emotional" -- that would ironically enough shape the future course of his life and land him ultimately on the Payson Council.

Nearing the end of his first four-year term, Wilson spends most council meetings leaning back in his chair watching events unfold like an unflappable municipal Buddha.

"I don't speak unless I've got something to add or no one else has said," observed Wilson -- noting that he sometimes makes a point he doesn't even believe just to make sure the idea gets interjected into the debate.

But in recent months, he has emerged on several surprising occasions as a key swing vote, increasingly critical of the tactics and priorities of Mayor Bob Edwards, who is running now on a ticket with two other council candidates.

Wilson has emerged as a solid but understated vote against the mayor's position on key issues, including Edwards' opposition to a deal with the YMCA and his support for both the annual 250-unit limit on new housing units and the extension of Mud Springs Road to Highway 260.

And that means that the case of childhood asthma that led Wilson to strike out for a dry climate when it came time for college has had a big impact on Payson politics.

Wilson heard that the climate in Arizona was good for asthma, so decided to attend the University of Arizona. He was amazed to find it adorned with pine trees instead of cactus.

In school, he discovered a lifetime fascination with the puzzle box of the tax code and upon graduation started a 32-year career with the Internal Revenue Service, mostly in Phoenix. He did just about everything, from trying to craft wage and price controls during the Nixon era to spending eight hears hearing tax appeals.

"My most interesting cases were things that were very complicated and needed figuring out."

A devout Presbyterian, he has also served for 32 years as a church treasurer and often provided free or low-cost accounting services for an array of charitable organizations.

He went through two marriages that produced four children, before he met his current wife in a divorce-recovery class. They discovered they attended the same church and shared the same values.

They disagreed on only two points in a set of questions the pastor offered up, when she said a wife should always obey her husband and that kids should have strong discipline.

As it turned out, they ended up raising his two grandsons and discovered that "she was the softie" and that "she always asks my opinion, but then does what she's going to do anyway."

They bought a cabin in Payson for vacations and after a fender bender in the Valley, decided to move to Payson permanently in 1991 - in part to get his grandsons into better schools. All told, they have seven children, 14 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren between them.

After retiring to Payson, Wilson launched a part-time business to provide tax consulting and also accounting services for nonprofits -- part of an ethic of public service that also eventually led him to his council run.

Now, he mostly keeps his peace on the council -- focusing on financial issues and rarely explaining his votes.

He surprised council observers recently by interjecting himself into the long-running drama over the fight by Phoenix Street residents led by Mayor Edwards to block the long-planned extension of Mud Springs to Highway 260.

When more than a hundred residents all but stormed the council chamber, the council referred the issue back to the traffic advisory committee and tabled a proposed contract with a design firm for a proposed roundabout.

But two meetings later, Wilson produced a carefully written motion awarding the contract, thereby effectively restoring the extension -- a resolution he worked out before the meeting with Councilman Mike Vogel.

Wilson said Mayor Edwards' orchestration of the opposition to the extension goaded him to action.

"Getting his people to come out like that and support his position, I think that's a little bit too much. We've had a lot of conflict lately related to the Mayor getting his way. Hopefully, what I've been doing there is trying to get some common sense into it and temper the emotional aspects of it."

Now he's content to leave the matter up to the voters.

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