Dorene Lorenz: Assembly Areadwide Candidate
Occupation: Communications Consultant
Bio shared by candidate: “A former television talk show host, broadcast journalist, and news director at ABC/FOX Alaska, my passion for amplifying the voices of the community, thought-provoking storytelling, and uncovering the truth, earned an appointment as a Pakistan Fellow at International Center for Journalists. My career extends to showcasing my talents as a celebrated interior designer, visual artist, television and film actor, and international award-winning screenwriter. My involvement in civic initiatives reflects a lifelong dedication to public service. I have volunteered on the Anchorage Arts Advisory Committee and the AVTEC Institutional Advisory Committee, as well as the Seward’s Historic Preservation Commission, Economic Development Committee, Waterfront Development Committee, Alternative Energy Committee, Long-Term Care Replacement Facility Committee, Centennial Legacy Committee, and the CBJ Sister Cities Committee.”
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Why do you want to be a member of the Juneau Assembly?
I have basically been on an Assembly before, I was on the city council in Seward. That was a happenstance — I was a younger person, I was minding my own business, going to the post office, and our plumber pulled me over and said, “Dorenne, please, please run for council.” And I was like, “Dude, I am not a politician. I’m not into politics. I don’t know who the mayor is.” He said “But you’re a reasonable person with common sense. And even though I don’t agree with you, I know that you’re going to hear what I have to say, and you’re going to be diplomatic and trying to make things work best.”
And he was right in that. So I ran for council and served a term there. And some of the things that people were proposing were a bit crazy. In recent years I’ve seen things happen in Juneau that frankly chips me off.
So there’s an old saying in journalism that says, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.” That’s the place that I got to and that’s why I filed to be on the Assembly. I know that I can’t fix every problem at CBJ, most of them didn’t start in a couple of years, and you’re not going to be able to resolve them in a couple of years. But some of these, like the property tax issue, just ain’t that hard to fix.
Describe your knowledge and involvement with Juneau’s municipal government and what you think the strengths and weaknesses of it are based on those experiences.
I have had a family where civic duty is just part of our DNA. That’s just what we do. So I’m more of a civil servant than a politician. That’s just my way. So my specific experience with the Juneau municipal government has been sitting on boards and commissions.
I have a long history in historic preservation and I understand it’s important, because not only does it ground people and who they were and where they came from, but it’s incredibly great for the economy, because historic people who come to a community want an authentic experience and historic preservation gives them that.
I was a communications major in college and one of the things our Dean always drummed into our heads was “Don’t listen, hear what people are saying,” and I think that folks here are just listening and they’re not really hearing.
Are you against, or in favor of the proposal for a new City Hall? What are your thoughts on the decision by the Assembly to both put it on the ballot again after it failed, and to fund an advocacy initiative?
It’s a respect issue — I think it’s a great idea to take most of the departments, consolidate them, and put them in a location where people have a decent place to work, where there are no health concerns or safety concerns. I think paying rent for 100 years is probably a pretty bonehead idea — I don’t know why they didn’t figure it out a long time ago.
But it bothers me that it seems kind of crazy to me that you’ve let the building deteriorate and go that long, and didn’t care for something along the way. It’s also disconcerting to me that you have not gotten the population who’s going to pay for it to say, “Yes, we’re behind this idea.”
This should have been like any idea — you don’t just start putting large chunks of money aside, at the detriment of other projects, without first getting the OK of the populace. That’s a respect issue.
In terms of the $50,000, I, again, find it to be a respect issue. If they were choosing the words, “We’re going to use this to educate the population, and give them the facts and the consequences — good and bad — it’s a net-neutral proposition 100%.” Fine. We should be doing that. We should be educating our voters. But they didn’t use that word. They use the word advocate. And I feel very uncomfortable with the city government advocating for any ballot measure. Yeah, I think that that’s an inappropriate role.
What is your assessment of how much the city taxes its residents versus the amount of public services it provides to them? Specifically outline what adjustment in each of those areas you’d advocate to change as a member of the Assembly.
You start a city government because you need them to do the things that you can’t do yourself. So the first thing there is safety. What is the city government doing in terms of safety? We look at the police department, and they are down 14 positions and have been for a long time, and in the next two years have almost a dozen more officers that are looking to retire.
And the way that things are set up. They can take their retirement and move someplace else, there is no incentive. So why are they leaving? Why are those positions filled? It’s not that hard to figure out who wants to come to anywhere and get paid less than what you would make anywhere else and work twice as many hours.
The city is not delivering quality service in terms of customer care. This is leading our expectations to become simply burnt out. So as a citizen of Juneau who’s paying property taxes that are supposed to be going towards giving the police force and fire resources they need — then we are not meeting our social contract there. That’s job one of the city. We can have the most beautiful parks in the world, and we would be failing if we don’t have the police and fire where they need to be.
The mill rate obviously has to go down. Sales tax — I’m squishy on the sales tax — I like the communities where they raise it in the summer and they lower it in the winter. I think that there are incentives that we can do like brakes on the mill rate for active fire and police and teachers that might help retain folks as well. Other communities do that. I know some people are fighting against the senior exemption, but I think we need to keep our elders here and benefit from their volunteerism, and benefit from their institutional knowledge of what’s going on. Those people leave and you’ve lost the heart of the community. And they need to be able to afford to live here.
How can the Assembly better balance the growing cruise ship tourism industry’s impact on the quality-of-life of residents, specifically regarding affordable housing, environmental impact and overall cost of living?
I think that if we had opportunities to spread these cruise ships out and away so that we didn’t have that downtown congestion, but still had the benefit of cruise ships, we’d be much better off.
Passengers who actually want to shop could be shipped to the shopping district, and those who have no interest in shopping whatsoever can completely avoid the downtown shopping district. I think it would make a huge change and how cruise ships are perceived.
In terms of affordable housing, I’m really baffled why we have an affordable housing problem here. We have so much land, it would be very easy to say “Hey, here is land that we are designating and we’re going to do incentives to build crew housing here.” When you have that designated housing for seasonal workers it opens up all the apartments that people are buying for crew housing and just holding them for that.
You can rent them at a price point that makes it reasonable for the guys who are starting their first job just after college or somebody who just needs a smaller place to stay — a little home — because they’re retired, those become more affordable. And then you have a ripple effect. I was very confused when a fireman told me he couldn’t afford affordable housing. I thought to myself, “Why in the heck would a police officer need affordable housing?” We have a social contract with those who go in the line of fire to serve and protect us, the least we can do is take care of their families.
Juneau has always been a workingman city and working people need to be able to afford to live here.
Are there any substantial matters that we didn’t get around to talking about that you think is pertinent to discuss?
I think that the folks who are currently sitting on the Assembly are well-meaning. I think that CBJ, generally speaking, most of the pressure points come from departments that are grossly understaffed and have been for a long period of time. Those people who are there are just desperately trying to get what’s on their desk today out the door to get the economy going — they don’t have time to go out and see what other cities are doing to see what makes sense for us. Yet the people on the Assembly are relying on them to do all the homework.
I think the Assembly is relying on folks who do not have the resources to get them the answers that they really need to make good decisions. You need to do your homework, you need to read your packet, you need to look at other opportunities, you need to do some investigative research and you need to listen to people when they come up with crazy ideas. Because sometimes crazy ideas are the wellspring of a great idea. And you can’t have people who all think the same or you’re never gonna get back to that.
I think that’s what will make me very different than the folks who are on there now and very different from the folks who are also running because I am an investigative person, I am a very inquisitive mind. I’ve worked in economic development most of my life and I know how to problem-solve in a way that is meaningful. And I look forward to being able to actually do something instead of just complaining.
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (651) 528-1807.