Loren Jones addresses the Juneau Chamber of Commerce in this January 2019 photo. In October, he completed his third, three-year term on the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly. Term limits prevented him from running again, and he recently attended his last official meeting. But, he has no plans to slow down. Earlier this week, he answered nine questions for the Empire — one question for each year of service on the assembly. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)

Q&A: Jones steps back, but not away

Long-serving CBJ Assembly member plans to stay busy

Last month, Loren Jones completed his third and final, three-year term on the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly. Term limits prevented him from running again, and he recently attended his last official meeting before handing the reins over to newly elected Assembly member ‘Wáahlaal Gíidaak Barbara Blake.

To mark his tenure, the Empire sat down with Jones and asked nine questions—one for each year of CBJ assembly service.

He shared his thoughts on government service, perspectives on Juneau’s future, and a few surprise nuggets in his answers.

Throughout the conversation, he shared his love for public service, the process that keeps the city moving, and the people of Juneau.

“I considered it to be a real honor to serve on the assembly and to serve Juneau,” he said. “Our government works in this town because of all the interaction and how it shares. It’s the value of having so many citizens take part in boards. They are all important to give input into the process. As long as all that works, the city government will always be responsible.”

The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

What attracted you to government service?

My chosen field was sociology and social work. My first job was as an alcohol counselor in Juneau. Through my work, I was always connected to nonprofit organizations. Working at the state, I worked with a lot of really great people and saw lots of people serving on different boards that provided prevention programs.

Also, my dad was a minister. Service came with the territory. My first job out of college was with the City of Juneau. The city was recruiting and offered me a job. My dad happened to know the minister at Chapel by the Lake, which is how I found an apartment for my first two months. It just happened to be the best thing that ever happened to me, besides meeting my wife. I’ve been here since December 1975. The thought of leaving Juneau never interested me.

[City considers whether to weigh in on state revenue options]

Looking back at your time on the Assembly, what stands out?

It has to be COVID-19. The last two years have been the most stressful and most rewarding at the same time. Collectively, we made a lot of really, really good choices and hard decisions. We upset a lot of people, and we made a lot of people safer. We worked hard to distribute the federal relief money the best we could.

Also, we’ve been able to collectively give some financial stability to the city. Property values have gone up, but the tax rate has not. Financial stability concerns are not over though. I don’t support a state sales tax. It’s the one tax besides property taxes that cities are allowed. In a diverse state, income tax is most fair. I have a suspicion the Legislature can skip the discussion one more year due to the price of oil. No one wants to increase taxes in an election year.

How do you view your legacy?

My legacy is that I worked hard. I tried to stay even with my philosophy. I tried to work with everyone. Sometimes, I was more successful than others. I tried to treat everyone with respect. I gave advice when I thought it would be accepted. I tried not to when I didn’t think it would help. I failed at that sometimes.

[City seeks to tax onboard services]

What’s the toughest decision you made over your nine years of service?

I can’t pinpoint one. You take them all as they come. When you take the questions in the context of what’s going on in the city and listen to the public comments that you get, making the final decision is not as hard when you go through the process. If you work through the committee process, listen and read, it seems easier when it comes time to make the decision.

I probably struggled the most when trying to make good decisions when appointing people to boards. We have so many boards, and we rely on them — the airport, the hospital, Eaglecrest. And you know the people we appoint will be managing budgets, working on policy, working on institutions and programs that are vital. You get written questions and a 10-minute interview with a candidate, it’s tough. Every year you go through the process of appointing people. Overall, surprisingly, those are some of the hardest decisions to make.

What are your thoughts on Juneau’s future?

We talk a lot about economic diversification. When I first got here, the concern was that this is a government town. For the last 10 years, with the budget woes at the state and changes to our economy, it has been diversified. As COVID-19 proved, we are a two-industry town—government and tourism. When both got hit, the economy suffered— but unevenly.

But, my fear for the future is that we once again rely on tourism, knowing that state workers may not come back, and then we are back to being a one-industry town again.

I think we need to develop winter tourism. We need to diversify the summer somewhat. I don’t know if we have the capacity in Juneau to attract remote workers. A lot of people think we can get high-speed web, home-based people. I don’t see us having enough to offer that they could not get someplace else. For someone in San Francisco, what’s different in Juneau that they can’t get in Oregon or Washington? But I think we could diversify our tourism. The winter economy means you really need to bank on the fact of keeping Eaglecrest open. Will climate change allow that?

I think we need to look more at maritime options—boats and fish processing. We could diversify to service the small cruise vessels and commercial fishing vessels rather than having them go to Seattle. Maybe create a dry dock.

What’s next for you?

Locally, I’m currently the chair of the United Way campaign this fall. Each fall, federal and state workplace sharing options happen. I’m a long-time contributor.

I’m working on getting the training and planning my way into volunteering at the Red Cross. It’s an interesting organization. About 90% of those involved are volunteers. I went into it with the idea of what I can do? They have a volunteer role with government operations, which is the liaison at an emergency operations center. After a disaster, I could be in that place representing the Red Cross to the local government. I’d basically be there to give information to them about what the Red Cross can provide and communicate back what the people need.

Housing is a big bugaboo. The mayor appointed me to the Housing & Development Task Force. I’ll be working with a group from the chamber, the assembly, and others to look at how to make development easier and work better.

My wife and I will be leaving town for New Mexico to see my brother, son, and grandkids, who we have not seen in two years because of the pandemic.

Then, we will go to Portland to see my other son and his wife and to spend Christmas with them. Later next year, we are going to Italy for a month in Rome with visits to Venice and Bologna. We’ve never been there. I’ve always wanted to go.

What’s the most frequent question you answered as an Assembly member?

Why are my taxes going up? Why isn’t my street plowed? Why is my driveway bermed in? Why are you spending all that money downtown and not fixing my potholes?

The local government is closest to the people. Those are the things that concern people. Sometimes we are right in the middle of it. I know that. I know when the eclectic and the water doesn’t work. I’m no different than any other citizen in Juneau.

What’s something that would surprise people to learn about you?

I’ve been in Juneau a long time, a lot of people know me. I’m not sure there’s anything that would be surprising.

My relaxation is to cook. I’ve hosted dinners for auction to raise money for groups like the Humane Society. Sometimes I’d do this 10 or 12 times a year. One dinner went for $1,500. It’s been really curtailed by the pandemic, but I do tapas, paella and dessert.

I’ve helped raise money for nonprofits — sometimes a few thousand a year — with a lot of repeat business. It’s my one creativity. I can’t play music. I don’t dance. But, this is another service. Another contribution. I enjoy the conversations and have met some nice people.

Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

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