Loren Jones ready for Assembly “graduate school”

Loren Jones is one of three candidates for the Assembly areawide seat. The first question he hears campaigning is “WHY ARE YOU RUNNING”?

“And before I can answer they often answer for me: ‘Are you crazy, what kind of insanity are you bringing, are you really tired of retirement, are you willing to put up with…’ ”

Long meetings, lots of meetings and lots of homework. While the most visible work of the Assembly is at regular Monday night meetings, the real work in done in committees.

“I sort of perceive the Assembly like graduate school,” Jones says. “If you’re going to be doing three hours every two weeks, you’re going to be doing 20 to 25 hours a week, getting ready for those three hours or the committee meetings leading up to it.”

For the last few months Jones has attended most of those meetings.

“And sometimes the public doesn’t realize that they’ve done 30 hours of work. They see the 10-minute discussion at the Assembly meeting and think it’s been railroaded through or nobody’s given it any thought.” He says the Assembly should present its work to the public better than it does.

Jones is used to all that work. He came to Juneau in 1975 as an alcohol counselor for the city and borough. He had just completed a master’s degree in sociology at Washington State University, with an emphasis on substance abuse studies.

He soon discovered he was a better administrator than counselor and in 1976 he went to work for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services — at a time when the state was beginning to use computer systems.

“I could understand what the computer people were telling the social workers but the social workers couldn’t. The computer guys couldn’t understand what the social workers were saying and I could, so I became translator in a way,” he says.

Jones found his niche in the behavioral health field and spent the rest of his career working on mental health and substance abuse issues. He was director of the state Division of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse for 10 years. He retired from state service in 2003.

Over the years, Jones has served on the CBJ Social Services Advisory Board, and the boards of directors for Bartlett Regional Hospital, Hospice and Homecare, and Catholic Community Services. He’s currently on the Juneau World Affairs Council.

He and his wife LaRae have raised two sons in Juneau, who now live outside the state. In recent years the Jones’s have traveled around the world, with stops on both ends to see children and grandchildren. That would be curtailed if he’s elected, but Jones says he’s ready for all the tough issues that come before the Assembly.

One of those is the AJ Mine. He believes the panel is taking an honest look at the feasibility of re-opening the AJ, but says the town needs a new water supply before even considering it.

The AJ Mine is one of many issues that divide Juneau.

“Even if we split 50-50, we know exactly why some people are on one side of that 50 and some people are on the other side. Juneau has never been shy, so in that sense it takes someone who is willing to listen and find the common ground.”

He says that’s his strength.

“So I think if there’s a distinguishing characteristic that I bring to the Assembly it would be somebody who has a real desire to hear all that out,” he says.

Jones has listened to all the arguments for and against the measures on the municipal election ballot. He says he’s torn on the 15-cent plastic bag tax, and probably will vote against it.

“But I support elimination of plastic bags, I support people taking in reusable bags,” but he doesn’t support the details of the tax, which would only be collected at the four largest businesses in Juneau.

Whatever the outcome, Jones says Proposition 5 has raised awareness of the plastic bag problem and begun an important community dialogue.

Jones is a definite NO vote on Proposition 1, which exempts city and borough officials from state financial disclosure laws, to be replaced with a local ordinance. When he worked as a director on the state level, he had to fill out the forms and says he never saw it as a problem.

“The people of Alaska have made it very clear in lots of different ways that they want some disclosure about who does what, when and where,” he says.

Jones listened to the debate before the Assembly and says he heard nothing to convince voters the change in law would enhance public trust of Juneau officials.

“I think what I heard from the public was you’re trying to hide something,” he says. “I don’t think they (Assembly) are, but that’s the message the public heard and that’s not the message that we should be sending.”

Loren Jones says he’s ready to go to work on Juneau’s landfill problem, affordable housing, improving health care services and increasing quality jobs as well as social service problems, such as the chronic inebriates that hang out downtown.

This is his first run for political office. His opponents for the areawide seat are Geny Del Rosario and Carlton Smith.

Jones is a gourmet cook and his meals are often sought after for local raffles and auctions. If he’s elected he says he’ll still take time for his epicurean hobby. Five hours in the kitchen his way to relax.

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