STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
GRANITE SHOALS — Jeffery Looney, the new Granite Shoals city manager, knows the economic growth of the city depends on addressing the lack of a wastewater system, something that’s gone before voters in the past but was shot down.
Some city managers might shy away from bringing up the topic so early into their new job, but Looney describes himself as a “straight shooter” with an expansive background. He understands what it takes to bring economic development to a community, regardless of the challenges it faces.
Looney officially took over as city manager Sept. 10. He replaces Ken Nickel, who resigned early this year. The city relied on an interim city manager until the Granite Shoals City Council hired Looney.
His first job after graduating from Baylor University was with Mexia State School as program coordinator. The facility specialized in serving people with disabilities. He was responsible for two units that housed women with severe behavioral problems and and mental disabilities.
“I enjoyed that a lot and learned a lot about people,” he said.
He also coordinated a five-county foster care program for people with disabilities. He noted some people didn’t need to live in an institution; they had enough physical abilities to live at home with their families.
In 1993, Looney became the Mexia city judge, and people encouraged him to pursue a master’s degree in public administration, which he did from the University of North Texas.
From there, he went to Malakoff in 1995 to be the city manager and stayed for two years until Rangely, Colorado, came calling in 1998.
“I had some unique experiences in Colorado you wouldn’t get in Texas,” he said.
Through the Bureau of Land Management, the city renovated a Native American self-guided canyon tour. The tour included interpretative sites that staff members helped update, Looney added.
In addition to being the city manager, he also served as a co-chair of the Dinosaur Diamond Scenic and Historic Byway, which runs through Colorado and Utah in a diamond shape. Looney represented Colorado, while the other co-chair represented Utah.
The byway covers 486 miles and takes about three days to travel. Along the route, dinosaur bones, fossils, and tracks are still visible in the ground, and museums feature dinosaurs and the ancient people who lived in the deep canyons, colorful deserts, and mountain valleys of the area.
“I learned a lot about dinosaurs I’d never known,” Looney said.
He was part of the group that brought high-bandwidth fiber to the northwestern slopes of Colorado. As a result, people gained better internet and cell service.
“You really divide the state of Colorado by the mountains,” said Looney, referring to the Rocky Mountains that run down the state. The eastern slope, with the major cities of Denver, Colorado Springs, and Boulder, often had better resources and services than the more rural western slope. “Our whole mode of operation was to get the same thing for the western slopes.”
In 2000, he took over as city administrator for Teague, Texas.
After seven years, Looney accepted a job with a Dodge dealership handling legal and personnel issues. The company purchased two more dealerships in 2008, right around the time of the recession began. As a result, the dealership went bankrupt, and Looney began consulting for the city of Nolanville, Texas.
In 2009, Looney was hired as city administrator of Fairfield, a 10-mile drive from Teague, where he stayed until 2017.
“I like to set roots and stay and try to make a difference for folks,” he said.
While there, the city landed an $18 million highway construction project that came into fruition after three years.
He helped bring a technical school to the town and worked with industry development corporations.
Looney also wanted more community development in the downtown area, which was challenging considering the city lacked a downtown association that normally leads such an endeavor, he said.
So he focused on two holidays.
“I made a portable haunted house that was big and large that we could take down,” Looney said. The haunted house went up around Halloween
Known as Keechi Manor, the house was part of the Boo on the Square event.
Looney wasn’t going for gore with Keechi Manor, just a fun experience.
“I didn’t want blood and guts,” he said. “The first year we did that, it went over really well. We had over 900 people come to the house.”
He also focused on Christmas events, he said.
“Those things made the town feel alive,” he said. “We did a lot of good things (in Fairfield), and I appreciated the experience.”
Looney knows big projects in Granite Shoals revolve around infrastructure and the three main road arteries: Prairie Creek, Phillips Ranch Road, and Valley View. In November, voters approved going ahead with a $3 million road project bond.
He wants to work toward economic development and knows to do that the city must address the lack of a wastewater system.
“It needs to be accomplished,” he said. “It’ll take a long time. Economic development will have to be a part of that. It’ll come.”
Looney said he had opportunities in other areas but felt called to Granite Shoals.
“It seemed to me you have a city council that doesn’t always agree on everything,” he said. “They come together for the betterment of Granite Shoals. It’s more about the challenges. I believe in service above self-interest. I see it as a ministry in a lot of ways. There’s a lot of things I can do to help out. I want to be a helper.”