January 31, 2012
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Payson board member’s unanimous election changes dynamics on an often-feuding board
A thunderstruck Larry Stephenson found himself unanimously elected president of the Gila Community College board on Friday, signaling a potentially dramatic shift in the politics of that contentious board. Outgoing President Bob Ashford took Stephenson completely by surprise when he suggested the Payson board member take the gavel at the beginning of the long-delayed January meeting. Northern Gila County board members Stephenson and Tom Loeffler both said they expected Ashford’s election to a sixth term with the predictable support of the two other members with districts dominated by voters from southern Gila County. Ashford offered no explanation for his decision to support Stephenson, although he has reportedly struggled with serious health problems in recent months. “I was thrown for a loop,” confessed Stephenson, who has clashed often, but politely, with Ashford in the past two years. Stephenson and Loeffler have both persistently criticized GCC’s contract with Eastern Arizona College, which provides academic credentials for the provisional community college district and imposes a 25 percent surcharge on everything GCC spends. Flummoxed, Stephenson objected saying the board should go through a formal nominating process before voting on new officers. Ashford agreed.