Gila Community College board member Tom Loeffler said “pettiness and politics” prompted him to resign from a legislative task force charged with finding a way for the college to become independent.
The entire future of the effort to free GCC now hangs in the balance, with three out of five members on the board unsure of the idea.
The college’s board recently decided not to approve a resolution supporting the task force’s goal of seeking independence for GCC. The lack of support stifled what had been rapid progress.
“By stepping aside, maybe the task force can once again focus on the goal of independence,” said Loeffler.
“It broke my heart,” said Sen. Sylvia Allen, who heads the task force. She said she will look for a new member from Payson.
Other task force members include GCC Board Chairman Bob Ashford, Senior Dean Stephen Cullen, Gila County Supervisor Mike Pastor, Payson resident Dan Haapala, Gila County schools chief Linda O’Dell, Northland Pioneer College President Jeanne Swarthout, Arizona Tax Research Association President Kevin McCarthy and Jay Spehar, who works with Freeport McMoRan.
At a recent board meeting, members Armida Bittner and Bernadette Kniffin, each representing southern Gila County, said they lacked basic information about the task force and the brewing legislation that would change state thresholds that now prohibit Gila County from operating an independent college.
Then Board Chairman Bob Ashford, who also sits on the task force, said he couldn’t support the resolution because he hadn’t attended a couple meetings in Payson because of potential open meeting law issues.
Ashford wrote in an e-mail that he supports efforts to win freedom for GCC. “I know it will also take the full support of every member of the GCC Governing Board for us to be successful.” He said the task force will speak to the board at its next meeting before a second attempt to pass the resolution.
“I think he’s being petty,” said Loeffler. “I don’t think it’s a philosophical difference. He’s been offended because he was not privy to something and so he’s going to hold this whole thing up.”
The resolution’s failure marked a confusing turn for the worse for most task force members. Passing the resolution is critical to continuing the progress already made, members say.
Ashford had promised Allen that he would pass the resolution and bring a similar one to county supervisors.
Although disappointed, Allen said she is still committed to pursuing GCC’s independence.
Loeffler said he will also continue efforts — just not on the task force. “This does not lessen my support for an independent GCC, only that I now have to follow a different course of action,” said Loeffler. He declined to elaborate on his new strategy.
Loeffler headed one of the task force’s two sub-groups that worked on developing legislation that would allow GCC to gain full-accreditation and also examine the financial implications.
The task force formed in April and its members have already developed ideas so legislative aides could draft a potential law that Allen could introduce in January to free GCC.
GCC formed after the state set tax-base and population thresholds for counties wanting to operate community colleges, so GCC operates as a provisional school and must contract with another to award diplomas.