Layton Lockett: Adak City Manager

Layton Lockett

Layton Lockett has been Adak’s city manager since 2010.

When Layton Lockett was in grad school his professors asked him to build spreadsheets, design marketing plans and participate in grueling 48 hour management workshops full of thought experiments like, “If you were stranded in a plane crash, what items would you take to survive?”  His classmates made fun of him when he chose Hershey bars and duct tape from the list, but to an Alaskan it just seemed like the best choice.

He is now the city manager of Adak and using the same common sense approach to help the city survive a different kind of crash.  But in a community where 30% of the annual budget goes to utility costs and their largest employer went bankrupt this year he needs a lot more than duct tape and candy bars.

Lockett’s family moved to Alaska in 1998 and he was raised further up the Aleutians in Nelson Lagoon.  He graduated from UAA in 2006 with a degree in Business Administration and began working at a non-profit organization as a tax consultant.  He heard about the city manager job while his mother was working at as a community health aide at the clinic in Adak and he came to visit for Christmas.  He interviewed with the city council and was hired in October 2010.

Since then Lockett has been working to restore financial solvency to the troubled city and find creative ways to lower their power costs.  Adak’s diesel power plant was built in 1964 and inherited from the Navy when the base closed in 1997.  TDX Adak Generating, the local utility, reported that they spent $1.2 million on diesel fuel for the plant in 2012 and charges consumers $1.13 per kilowatt hour for electricity.  The State of Alaska’s Power Cost Equalization program subsidizes $.80/kWh, but actual consumer cost is still $.33/kWh compared to about eight cents in Anchorage.  The PCE program paid out $290,000 for Adak residents last year.

Lockett began investigating wind and hydroelectric options in 2011 and after receiving several grants for alternative energy studies he hired an engineering firm this year to bid on the projects.  Beyond the dam upgrades and wind turbine installation, Adak would also need to modernize their power lines and distribution infrastructure to interface with alternative energy sources.

Adak's public offices, school and health clinic are housed in one building to conserve utilities.

Adak’s public offices, school and health clinic are housed in one building to conserve utilities.

While balancing the books and juggling electric bills he received yet another piece of bad news: Icicle Seafoods was closing the fish plant in Adak after only a year and a half of operation. 

“We’re like, whoa, are you kidding me?  The voters just enacted a raw fish tax and they literally felt like they got slapped in the face.  It’s like, shoot, you didn’t even give us a chance to try.  All of a sudden that turns into the bank being told by the federal government, get rid of it.  Get rid of the stuff.”

When the fish plant went up for public auction the city began to worry that it would be purchased by scrappers who would disassemble the facility and destroy any chance of attracting a new operator.  Without any other industries, Adak’s financial future was at stake and in June the city purchased the plant for $1.8 million. The purchase required shaking some city couch cushions to find enough cash, but the gamble paid off.  In October Adak sold the plant to a newly formed company called Adak Cod Cooperative LLC and hopes they will open in 2014.

Despite holding the city together with duct tape and riding a roller coaster of profit and loss, Lockett says he has learned a lot from the job.  Adak will likely be his last stop on the Aleutians and he plans to move back to Anchorage someday, but he is grateful for all his experiences.

“A true manager or a leader is supposed to have the creativity to get everybody in the room and make them all work together.   Where else could I be going up against a national airline and convincing them… Is there a deal to be worked out?  Or sitting with Trident Seafoods talking to their CEO and working on a million dollar deal.  All these experiences I’ve had…  I mean, I couldn’t get this working at BP.  So this has been very fun.”

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Arenza Thigpen Jr.: Direct Democracy Lobbyist

Arenza Thigpen Jr

Arenza Thigpen Jr. prepares to collect signatures outside a local supermarket.

Arenza Thigpen Jr. is a Direct Democracy Lobbyist. Most people would call him a petitioner or signature gatherer, but after years of working issues and collecting autographs for ballot initiatives he developed a new title to better describe his role in the political process. 

He openly boasts that he has registered more people to vote than anyone else in the State of Alaska and estimates that his all-time record was registering 250 people in one day.  He has personally recruited thousands of new voters and worked tirelessly to educate the public on political issues.

He is so passionate about this responsibility that last year he founded a non-profit organization called the International League of Signature Gatherers.  He conducts regular meetings to promote education, discuss developments in the industry and ensure that his members are being treated fairly.

“We’re the guardians of democracy,” he said.  “Seriously, it’s almost like a gang.”

Thigpen was born in Tuskegee, Alabama, but dreamed of moving to Alaska since he was a teenager.  By the age of 22 he saved enough money to move and has been living in Anchorage for the past twenty years.  His career as a DDL began in early 2000 when he become a Registrar and started working petitions.

“By being involved in this I’ve managed to be an inspiration because people now see that there’s a way out.  They’re sick of legislators making all the decisions and then not telling them about it.  Whereas you’ve got this grass roots operation that gives people a chance to get involved and make a difference.”

He has traveled all over the country working issues from Florida to California, but always maintained residency in Alaska.  His proudest moment as a petitioner was helping to collect enough signatures to require a 2007 vote on the same day airborne shooting ban aimed at strengthening regulations on aerial hunting of wolves and grizzly bears.

Thigpen is currently working a petition to raise the minimum wage in Alaska from $8.75 to $9.75 an hour.

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Rod Perry: Iditarod Ambassador

Rod Perry with his malamute Phoenix.

Rod Perry with his malamute Phoenix.

At the northeast corner of 4th Avenue & E Street in downtown Anchorage a sprawling homemade canopy of polished spruce beams and heavy canvas crowds the busy sidewalk from June until August.  A brightly lettered sign above the canopy encourages visitors to stop and meet Iditarod musher Rod Perry, an adventurous author who ran the first Iditarod in 1973.  For the past five years he has spent his summers serving as Anchorage’s self-appointed Iditarod ambassador.  He greets each visitor with a friendly smile as they examine the books spread between carefully balanced birch logs.

Perry describes himself as a “hopeless romantic and gold rush era junkie”.  He moved to Alaska fifty years ago to make movies and worked his way across the state as an oil worker, commercial fisherman, hunting guide and game biologist.  His first dog team was purchased in the early 1970s for a film called “Sourdough” about an old time Alaskan trapper battling the encroachment of modern civilization and he quickly fell in love with mushing.

He met Iditarod founder Joe Redington through friends in the winter of 1971 during the very early stages of Iditarod planning, though he is careful to explain that he had no involvement in the race before he competed.  “Joe needed mushers.  Back then we might have had three dozen people and nobody knew what they were doing because it had never been done.  In order for us to go out there knowing it was going to be sketchy, incomplete and sometimes nonexistent we had to put people out there that were virtually impossible to kill.”

Perry proved himself among the invincible and placed 17th in the first race after 30 harrowing days on the trail.  He tried again in 1974 and shaved four days from his record to finish 14th.  His final attempt came in 1977 when he placed 19th with a 17 day finish.  He stopped mushing in the late 1980s as he started a family and moved on to other interests, but never lost his passion for the race or the trail.

Rod Perry sits at his booth waiting for visitors to stop by and chat.

Rod Perry sits at his booth waiting for visitors to stop by and chat.

By 2009 Perry had finished the first volume of his book “Trailbreakers: Pioneering Alaska’s Iditarod” about the rich gold rush history of the trail.  After it was published he approached the Anchorage Downtown Partnership with the idea of an Iditarod attraction open during the summer where he could sell books, talk to tourists and provide additional visitor information for the city.   

“They didn’t have anything down here celebrating the Iditarod trail,” said Perry.  “How many people come to Alaska?  How many come here and would thrill to some kind of Iditarod encounter?  So I was after them.  Why don’t you have a banner across the street?  Anything.”

Perry’s passionate perspective on the race and unique ability to engage and entertain strangers promised a perfect solution to this gap in tourist topography and the Downtown Partnership soon offered him a spot next to the log cabin at the Anchorage Visitor Information Center.  He remained there for one season before moving to his current location in Bear Square and now hundreds of people from all over the world visit the booth on busy days to listen to his colorful stories and pet his hundred pound Malamute named Phoenix.

“I never did use the dog until this year,” he said.  “I could see that the addition of a big, beautiful malamute doubled what I called my Attention-Attraction Zone.  There’s no amount of signage that I’ve ever had that was worth a tenth as much as having that dog here.”

Rod Perry with his lead dog Fat Albert after the 1974 Iditarod. (Photo courtesy of Bill Devine)

Rod Perry with his lead dog Fat Albert after the 1974 Iditarod. (Photo courtesy of Bill Devine.)

Perry is well-acquainted with the popular appeal of sled dogs.  A sturdy husky named Fat Albert led Perry’s dog team to Nome in both 1973 and 1974.  The comical and high-spirited lead dog was so well-covered by the media that he became a minor national celebrity.  During the 1974 race The National Observer ran stories about him for twelve weeks straight and a 1976 Sports Illustrated article claimed that Fat Albert did for the Iditarod what Babe Ruth did for Yankee Stadium. 

“Who can keep from having their soul stolen by those great sled dogs of the north?” asked Perry.   “People are just in love with dogs.”

For more information on Rod Perry and his Iditarod books, please visit

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Alex Marqueda: Kids In The Kitchen

In a world where 53% of adults don’t believe they can cook as well as their mothers or grandmothers and 57% of young adults are eating fast food at least once a week, Alex Marqueda is cooking up a plan to defy the odds.   The ambitious owner of Ready Made Dinners on Tudor Road is a self-taught chef whose culinary education began with his grandmother in Mexico City and turned into a delicious career.  He opened the business earlier this year to provide freshly prepared meals that busy families can pick up and cook at home. 

But this Anchorage restaurant offers more than the promise of convenience and healthy meals.  Cooking skills are so important to Marqueda that he started a program called Kids In the Kitchen where he offers small group classes on basic food preparation and nutrition to kids between the ages of six and eighteen.

“Food makes people connect and families need a lot of that,” said Marqueda.  “There’s so much technology.  Ten years ago you would never see a kid with a cell phone because they couldn’t even afford it.  Nowadays you see a four year old who knows how to use an iPod better than his parents, but can he make a sandwich?  Probably not.  So I think that teaching kids how to cook goes beyond just making a meal.  It’s way more than that.”

The classes offer a fun and creative opportunity to experiment with new foods and flavors, but most kids are used to fast food and skeptical of anything that looks unfamiliar.  In order to get them interested in the recipes he begins each session with samples of the meal they will make and discussions about the culture it originated in.

“When they taste something that is healthy for them they reject it because their taste buds are not used to that.  So we don’t tell them what’s in it first.  We let them taste it first, they love it, and then we teach them how you make it.  So it’s a little bit of reverse psychology.”

Marqueda provides a wide variety of ingredients to experiment with and each child has the freedom to build on basic recipes and find out what they like.  By the time they’re done cooking the miniature chefs are thrilled to go home and show off their new skills.

“They love it because they can do it here and know that they’re probably not going to be allowed to do that at home.  And the parents love that there is a place where they’ll be able to do that and they won’t have to clean up.”

For more information on Ready Made Meals or Kids In The Kitchen, visit Facebook or

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