When Dave Shafer was appointed to the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission in 1992, people were talking about traffic congestion on the Borman Expressway.
Two decades later, people are still talking about congestion on the Borman Expressway, but they are now talking about other things as well.
Those include the Illiana Expressway, the South Shore commuter rail extension, reviving the region's urban core and transit-friendly "livable centers."
People are not just talking about those things. They are making them happen. And a lot of the credit is being given to people like Shafer.
"This is someone who has long experience with NIRPC, but also with the national association, so he can see how our efforts at NIPRC fit into the bigger picture," NIRPC Executive Director Tyson Warner said.
Shafer's 22-year run at NIRPC, where he served as chairman in 2005 and headed up six committees at various times, came to an end at the end of last year. The Munster Town Council by a 4-0 vote on Dec. 30 replaced him as its NIRPC board of directors appointee with councilman Joseph Simonetto.
Interviewed recently, Shafer said council members gave no reason for replacing him other than that they wanted the Town Council to be more involved at NIRPC. Interviewed separately, Simonetto said that was the reason. He discounted any other motives.
As Munster's clerk-treasurer, Shafer is one of six town officials who must stand before voters for election. He is the only one who is not a member of the Town Council.
Shafer said he would still like to be serving as a board member at NIRPC, as the agency embarks on what could be some of its most significant transportation projects in decades, which hold great promise for improving the quality of life here.
"It works and it should continue to work, because its decisions are being made at the local level," Shafer said of the almost half-century-old agency. "And that's how it should be."
As a regional council of governments with 51 members, NIRPC avoids "one size fits all" decisions, instead giving individual communities a "tool box" of solutions to work with, Shafer said.
NIRPC board chairs, who serve for one year, are very careful in picking committee chairs because that is where the real work at the agency is done, said Executive Director Warner. That Shafer at one time or another chaired at least six different committees is a real testament to his investment in NIRPC and its mission, Warner said.
"It's very important because it's at the committee level that you have the most direct avenue for getting at both the meat and the details of topics that are working their way to the commission," Warner said.
Those committees usually spend months putting together a proposal before it is voted on and passed up to the full NIRPC board for a final decision.
As much as Shafer enjoyed the challenges of planning on the regional level, he took up an additional challenge in 2004 when he accepted an appointment to the board of directors of the National Association of Regional Councils.
In 2012, Shafer became the first Hoosier ever elected to the post of national president for the association. That term was for one year. As a past president, Shafer continues to serve as an ex-officio member of the national association's board of directors.
In January, NIRPC recognized Shafer's spirit of regionalism and his long service to the agency with its Norman E. Tufford Award.
The Tufford Award, named for NIRPC's founding executive director, was established last year to recognize commissioners and staff of the agency who demonstrate outstanding leadership and service to NIRPC and the region.
Warner said the Tufford Award is not going to be given every year. But this year the selection committee had no problem finding someone worthy of the it.
"It was a no-brainer," Warner said. "Everyone said this is Dave's award."