Tom Loeffler-Innovation Can Solve Problems


Tom Loeffler still remembers the feeling of sick outrage that rose in him when he read about the agony of a father who buried the boy killed by a drunk driver with seven previous DUI arrests.

If only someone had called the police before that repeat drunk driver had a chance to kill that boy, thought Loeffler, then a Wisconsin safety enforcement officer and former school principal.

Hmm, he thought. What if someone with a cell phone had called police as they watched that driver weaving over the lane dividers?

The thought launched an arduous four-year effort that wound up making Wisconsin the first state in the country with a statewide cell phone 911 system to route calls to the nearest police department instead of the home address of the cell phone user.

The system cut response times and brought a host of tips for police, including about a dozen times when Loeffler himself made note of an impaired driver and dialed 911 -- thinking about that shattered father all the while.

Loeffler hopes to bring that combination of problem solving and tenacity to the Payson Council, if he can win election to one of the three seats up for grabs. Currently the head of the town's Surface Transportation Advisory Commission, Loeffler is running on a ticket endorsed by Mayor Bob Edwards in an increasingly contentious election defined in large measure by an evolving debate on the mayor's leadership style.

"When I came to Payson, I was obviously retired and wanting to build a home. But as I moved around and got to know some of the things, l thought, ‘I have the background and maybe I could help solve the problem.' So I think I have some information and knowledge in certain areas that could make this town a little bit nicer to live in."

He maintains that although he has the Mayor's endorsement and they're sharing costs for many ads, he will vote independently.

He has already demonstrated that on the explosive issue of the extension of Mud Springs Road to Highway 260, which is adamantly opposed by the mayor. Drawing on two decades of experience in the Wisconsin highways department, Loeffler says the town can use striping, signs, gates and other traffic control measures to extend Mud Springs without letting drivers turning off the highway turn it into a dangerous, unofficial highway bypass.

In fact, the balding, mild-mannered, soft-spoken Loeffler, with an air of genially bespeckled expertise, has spent his life working quietly from the insides of assorted bureaucracies to patiently solve problems.

The son of a postal worker and a stay-at-home mom who raised four kids in rural upper Michigan, Loeffler attended a Catholic college and started a career as a science teacher. He taught junior high for five years, moved into administration and became an elementary school principal.

He spent 11 years as an educator and learned "that in order to make a success at this, you had to become very businesslike in your approaches. Being a teacher gave me an insight into people -- how to bring the best out of people by encouraging them."

But a decade of struggling with budgets, parent complaints and the educational bureaucracy, he felt burned out by how often the needs of the kids themselves got overlooked.

He first visited Payson on vacation 35 years ago and the tiny town with two paved streets and horses tied up in front of the Oxbow Saloon made a lasting impression. "We picked it out on a map -- and basically fell in love with it." He tucked away the idea of retiring to Payson in the back of his mind.

Back home in Wisconsin, he took a state job working in health and human services and after a couple of years moved over to code enforcement and traffic safety. He figured he'd do that for a couple of years -- but wound up making a 27-year career out of state service.

But the memory of that little mountain town in Arizona lingered.

Upon retiring three years ago, he moved to Payson -- where town affairs soon sucked him in.

Now, he wants to apply a businesslike approach to the town's chronic problems -- starting with the roads, finances and economic development.

Affable and knowledgeable but also unassuming and understated, he seems more bureaucrat that politician -- the consensus building behind the scenes manager not stepping out front. He has amassed a lot of information about problems facing the town, but his positions are mostly careful and soft-edged.

So he would like to see the YMCA come to town, but frets about giving away town park land; supports an upgraded events center, but worries about the lack of a master plan; supports Blue Ridge Reservoir, but offers few details.

But mostly, he offers his long years of government experience and a calm and careful style that seeks to transform even the tragedy of a young boy's death into innovative solutions.

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