Julian E. Jones Jr. is on a learning curve. He started on the night of June 24, 2014, when he won the Democratic primary for the Baltimore County 4th Councilmanic District. With no Republican opponent in the following November general election, Jones was essentially elected to represent an area where he's lived for 20 years.
Even though Jones wasn't officially sworn in as councilman until Dec. 1, 2014, he immediately began hosting town hall meetings in Reisterstown, Owings Mills, Woodlawn and Randallstown, the four corners of his widespread district.
He met with community and business leaders. He talked to county government officials. He touched based with the state legislators who represent the district in the General Assembly.
"I got their input, and I'm going to use that," said Jones. "I intend to leverage the power of the County Council to effect change in my community."
At age 51, Jones is married and the father of three, from 12 to 29 years old, and he has a granddaughter. His wife of 13 years, Sabrina, is vice president at Walters Relocation, a Baltimore City moving company.
A resident of Woodstock, Jones has long been active in the district. He is former president of the Hernwood Elementary School PTA and a member of the Greater Patapsco Community Association, a group that advocates for the rural areas of Randallstown.
He says that better schools, job training, summer jobs for youth and commercial development are among the district's most pressing issues.
"I will be very involved," Jones said. "My constituents will have a voice that represents them."
On a cold winter day, Jones is alone in his district office, two rooms in the Randallstown Community Center off Liberty Road.
The amiable Jones is dressed in uniform — black pants and tie and a starched white shirt bearing the insignia of his rank as Anne Arundel County Fire Department chief.
"I was the first African-American to go up through the [fire department's] ranks," Jones said of his progression from lieutenant, captain and battalion chief to his current rank. He was part of the Maryland Task Force sent to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Jones grew up in east Baltimore. A 1981 graduate of Dunbar High School, he attended Baltimore City Community College and, to further his education, worked his way through the University of Maryland Baltimore County where he graduated with a bachelor of science degree in information systems management.
The 4th Councilmanic District has several distinct features. It is majority African-American, roughly 55 to 60 percent of the approximately 120,000 residents, by Jones' estimate, although he is wary of characterizing it that way.
"A combination of people elected me, to use my best judgment," he said.
Geographically, Liberty Road is the spine of the 4th District. The district stretches east to west from the Baltimore City line to the Carroll and Howard counties line, and north to south from Painters Mill and Reisterstown roads to Dogwood Road.
It ranges from rural Granite to burgeoning Lyons Mill Road, where townhouse and apartment complexes are going up so quickly that the county was forced to build a new elementary school, scheduled to open next fall, in the vicinity.
The district includes parts of Reisterstown and Owings Mills, specifically Owings Mills New Town, Owings Mills Mall and Metro Centre at Owings Mills, a transit-oriented development of residential, retail and offices next to the Owings Mills Metro station.
Indeed, the future of Owings Mills Mall and the progress of Metro Centre at Owings Mills are two of his immediate concerns. Of the former, he says several developers are interested in buying mall property. A variety of plans have been floated, such as a residential-commercial project.
But the mall's two anchors, Macy's and JC Penney, own their stores and the parking lot sites in front. "I don't think the mall will exist" in the future, said Jones, although he doesn't know what will replace it.
As for Metro Centre, Jones has met with developer Howard Brown, of David S. Brown Enterprises. "He is willing to spend up to $1 billion" to bring the project to completion, Jones said.
Jones first ran for the 4th District councilmanic seat in 2010. In a crowded field of six challengers and the incumbent, he lost the Democratic primary by fewer than 100 votes. When he ran again in 2014, he won the primary against a single challenger and the incumbent by 1,716 votes.
"I'm the type of person who, if I see an issue, looks in the mirror and asks, 'What are you going to do about it?'" said Jones. "I never give up." After his narrow 2010 defeat, "I thought, 'What can I do better in my 2014 campaign?'"
Since the current County Council session started after members' Dec. 1 inauguration, Jones has been attending the twice-monthly council meetings. He is impressed by the collegiality among the four Democrat and three Republican members.
"We call it 'pot-hole' government. On a day-to-day basis, we are concerned with fixing roads and air conditioning in schools," he said. "In the last few years, there's only been a couple of issues that were divisive" along party lines.
But not all issues fall within the council's jurisdiction.
"At the end of the day, the money comes from the county executive," said Jones, who is also working with county officials on residents' priorities. One of them is attracting more upscale white-tablecloth restaurants to the district.
Residents "don't want to have to leave the area for fine dining," he said.
"Because of his background with the PTA, we are hoping Jones will be a strong advocate for the Liberty Road schools," said Cathy Wolfson, treasurer and past president of the Greater Patapsco Community Association.
"He is also aware of our stand of no upzoning in the district's rural areas," said Wolfson, referring to her group's opposition to changing zoning classifications in the upcoming 2016 county rezoning cycle.
Danny Blount has another perspective. "We are looking to Jones to bring economic growth to the district," he said.
"We have put so much money into the county and we are underserved in that way," continued Blount, vice chair of the Combined Communities Advocacy Council of Greater Randallstown, an umbrella for 11 communities, and immediate past president of the Hernwood Heights Community Association.
Aaron Plymouth, chair of the Combined Communities and president of the Stevenswood Community Association, has no doubt that Jones will engage the entire district, residents and businesses, as diverse as their needs are.
"His style is listening, asking questions and looking at situations objectively," said Plymouth, who served as Jones' senior adviser during the 2014 campaign.
"He has years of experience in community building and leadership," Plymouth said. "He understands the perspective of the 4th District."