The 2020-2021 academic year has been unlike any other. But despite the unusual circumstances like mask wearing, social distancing and hybrid learning, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted students’ experiences in ways they never anticipated. We are sharing their stories.
Last fall, Dallas Jones, Jr., received a call from someone at a local restaurant. The caller was upset because the manager would not accept his expired driver’s license that would allow him to buy a one dollar margarita.
“The man held his phone up and yelled, ‘I have the Governor on the phone; he wants to speak to the manager,’” Jones recalled. “At that point, I was seriously questioning what I had gotten myself into.”
Each day, thousands of Nebraskans contact the Office of the Governor and as part of his internship, it was Jones’ responsibility to respond to those messages. As the office’s constituent services liaison, Jones organized, prepared and responded to emails and calls to the Governor.
To settle the margarita dispute, Jones, a senior business administration major, contacted the restaurant’s corporate office and clarified the executive order filed by the Governor’s Office that waived expired Nebraska driver’s licenses for those 65 years and older during the pandemic.
“As a representative of the Governor’s Office, it was up to me to see that this man gets his one dollar margarita,” said Jones.
Prior to COVID-19, Jones worked as a policy analyst in the Department of Administrative Services. His responsibilities included identifying efficiencies throughout state government agencies. In February 2020, he helped the department prepare to work from home due to the pandemic and ensure continuous operation.
As his responsibilities slowed considerably, he was approached about working in the Governor’s office where his priority was to read and categorize emails sent to the Governor. He organized messages based on the issue and sent them to the necessary state agency for a response. Once the response was returned, Jones helped edit them and get final approval from the Governor’s communications director.
No two days were the same, Jones said.
“There was always something going on — a new issue, a breaking story or an event that they needed to handle,” he said. “Regardless of your politics, the Office of the Governor is very prestigious and required me to carry myself differently at work and outside of work. At all times I was expected to be professional, patient, and prompt. I was there to assist the Governor and serve Nebraskans.”
Last summer was the most challenging, Jones said, because the coronavirus was a frequent topic for constituents. He recalls the state’s decision to limit nursing homes visit and the reaction from family members most affected.
One story still resonates with Jones.
An out-of-state woman called to share her dismay that her mother was in hospice care had been told she had a week or two to live. Because of the restrictions, the family was not able to visit.
“I was able to get ahold of the community health director, officials from the Department of Health and Human Services and the retirement home,” he explained, “so that they could find an exception to allow the caller and her family an opportunity to see their mom.”
Some calls were heartbreaking or difficult, Jones said, but it was an honor for him to serve the role.
“I began to understand how difficult it is to govern especially during a pandemic, Jones said. “There are so many different voices that are clamoring to be heard, but our elected officials have to somehow figure how to incorporate all of them.”
Jones now works at the Lincoln Independent Business Association as the director of policy and research where he educates businesses on the current happenings in local government and testifies on behalf of them in front of government bodies.
“As the youngest registered lobbyist in the state, I represent over 1,000 businesses with all government concerns,” he explained. “I act as their liaison and an ally who wants them to succeed more than anyone.”
Following his graduation in May, Jones will attend law school for a dual Juris Doctor and Master of Business Administration degree.
“I want to be able to help the passionate, future entrepreneurs with managing legal and public policy hurdles that can be confusing to understand,” he said. “I want to attend law school to learn to help more entrepreneurs realize their own dreams.”
—Story by Danielle Anderson, public relations writer