The latest flap about appointments to Payson town committees has prompted at least one council member to call for another overhaul of the whole system.
Councilor Ed Blair wants the entire council to interview applicants for service on town committees, rather than mostly rubber stamping the recommendations of the vice mayor.
The current council about a year ago shifted the job of recruiting and recommending committee members from the mayor to the vice mayor.
Last week, that system generated it’s own share of controversy when the council approved Vice Mayor Mike Vogel’s recommendation not to reappoint Traffic Advisory Board Chairman Tom Loeffler and Planning Commissioner Gary Bedsworth.
“I’ve worked with both different systems with two different administrations now, and just one person has too much power — it all comes down to that one person,” said Blair.
Instead, he said he would ask the council to consider setting up a system in which the council interviews candidates, especially when the town gets more applications than it has seats.
This time around, four people applied for three seats on TAB and five people applied for two seats on the planning commission.
“These committees really are advisory to the council. But many times council members vote on a nomination without ever having met the person. It would behoove the council to have a close connection with candidates for those positions.”
Blair said he would seek to put a revision of the current system on a future council agenda.
Attorney’s advice sought
In addition, Blair said he had sought advice from the town attorney as to whether a member of the traffic committee could resign to open up a seat for the reappointment of Loeffler. TAB member Jim Hippel last week offered to resign his seat if the council would promise to appoint Loeffler, but Mayor Kenny Evans ruled the offer out of order since it wasn’t on the publicly advertised agenda.
Loeffler, with 22 years experience as a state highways official in Wisconsin, had submitted a letter to the town saying he didn’t want to be appointed. Loeffler ran unsuccessfully for council two years ago on a slate headed by former mayor Bob Edwards. Since then, he has been appointed to the Gila Community College Board and operated as an activist, independent, but consensus-building head of the traffic committee, effectively defusing the once hot button issue of Mud Springs Road.
However, Loeffler changed his mind about resigning the next day, at the urging of other TAB board members. Loeffler said he went back to town hall and took back the letter. A town employee then asked him to return the original copy, which he did thinking his offer to resign had been rescinded.
However, Vice Mayor Mike Vogel said that as soon as Loeffler’s letter was submitted he took Loeffler’s name off the list of candidates. He then recommended the council appoint Gordon Metcalf, who had served on the TAB board previously — until then-Mayor Edwards refused to reappoint him about two years ago.
The council also approved Vogel’s recommendation not to reappoint Gary Bedsworth to the Planning and Zoning Commission. Bedsworth had previously been closely aligned with Edwards. Instead, the council approved the appointment of Clark Jones to the planning commission.
Past appointment problems
Ironically, the current council had hoped to defuse the sometimes politically charged appointments process by shifting responsibility for appointments from the mayor to the vice mayor. Some two years ago, Edwards’ proposed appointments to the traffic board had spurred a rare revolt by a majority of the town council. That furor revolved around the debate about whether to extend Mud Springs to Highway 260, which the council majority favored but with Edwards fought tenaciously.
Edwards refused to reappoint Metcalf and then recommended Joannie King, who had been active in rallying opposition to the Mud Springs extension. The council majority rejected that appointment and the controversy led to the shift to the current system, when newly elected Mayor Kenny Evans delegated the job of recruiting and recommending committee appointments to the vice mayor. In addition, the council agreed to rotate the vice mayor’s job among all the council members by shifting the title annually.
Responding to an article in the Roundup saying that the council had “ousted” Loeffler by refusing to let him rescind his one-day resignation, Metcalf said the article was “long on political nonsense and short on facts.”
He said Loeffler resigned and therefore the suggestion he’d been “tossed out” by the council was “political hogwash.”
“I had submitted my letter many months ago requesting to be reappointed to (TAB) in case there might be a vacancy,” Metcalf wrote. “After Tom sent in his resignation, I was notified that there would be a vacancy. I like Tom. I have a lot of respect for his knowledge. I did not know that he had resigned until after I was told that I had been selected to fill the vacancy. Therefore, Mike Vogel did not promise me the position. There’s nothing political about this situation.”
Metcalf said that Edwards hadn’t decided not to reappoint him two years ago because of the controversy about Mud Springs, but because Metcalf had worked against Edwards’ election based on the recommendation of a mayor’s advisory committee.
Loeffler has maintained amiable relationships with the town council and promises to play a key role in the efforts to convince Arizona State University to build a four-year college campus in Payson as a result of his position on the community college board. He had laid out an ambitious agenda for TAB, including a review of speed limits on town streets, work on the current town-wide traffic study on which a revision of the general plan will be based and ADOT’s ongoing discussions about a highway by-pass.
Moreover, although both Loeffler and Bedsworth had close connections to the Edwards’ camp, so did a number of other town committee members who were reappointed. For instance, two of the leading opponents of the Mud Springs Road Extension — Richard Dalby and Shirley Dye now sit on TAB and Dye was just routinely reappointed.