Several Tacoma City Council members had second thoughts about a set of annual goals they adopted last month, with at least two councilmen voicing concerns that the document did not pay enough attention to rising concerns about public safety in their neighborhoods.
The document, called City Council strategic policy priorities, was modified at Tuesday’s evening council meeting to reflect their criticism. It set broad goals, such as improving civic engagement, livability, education, government performance, and accessibility and equity.
Its first draft did not mention “public safety,” except in the context of adopting law enforcement reforms through an initiative called Project Peace.
Without an acknowledgment about public safety, Councilman Joe Lonergan said, the document looked politically “tone deaf” to residents who have noticed increasing numbers of drive-by shootings and high profile homicides.
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“Public safety is one of the things that only government does, and it’s not reflected anywhere in this document,” he said.
He said someone who does not pay close attention to the council might pick up the document and say to himself, “Well, I hear Tacoma has some issue with crime, but I don’t see any sign the council is taking crime seriously.”
If we say we’re going to solve crime, we’re kind of quietly making a promise to hire 100 more police officers as if that’s going to solve it.
Mayor Marilyn Strickland
The council established its goals during a weekend retreat last month. They took into account feedback they heard from thousands of residents last year while producing the “Tacoma 2025” project, which also set broad goals for improving the city.
“These are more high-level objectives to advance the goals of 2025,” Mayor Marilyn Strickland said, encouraging her colleagues to stick with the priorities they favored a month ago.
Councilman Anders Ibsen supported her in describing that process as fair and thoughtful during an afternoon discussion at a council study session.
Later in the afternoon, the council adjusted its goals to reflect that it wanted to nurture “safe” neighborhoods. It also directed city staff to establish metric that elected officials could use to gauge progress.
Strickland at Tuesday night’s council meeting reiterated that she did not think the additional language was necessary because providing public safety was an essential city service that colors almost every council decision.
“I am of the belief that keeping the keeping community safe is a routine thing,” she said. She voted for the new language and the council approved the goals by a 9-0 vote.
Earlier in the day, City Manager T.C. Broadnax said the purpose of the strategic policy document was to guide his department leaders in their own plans for the next two to 10 years. He did not want the direction to get “in the weeds” of work that belongs with city employees.
“There are three things we do: police, fire and public works,” he said, meaning that law enforcement is major component of city government and an obvious priority.
Public safety is one of the things that only government does, and it’s not reflected anywhere in this document.
Councilman Joe Lonergan
Three other council members expressed reservations in varying degrees about the document during their study session.
Councilman Ryan Mello said he liked it, but wanted reminders about how he could hold the city accountable for accomplishing its goals.
Councilman Marty Cambell said he shared Lonergan’s worries about its lack of emphasis on public safety.
And Councilman Conor McCarthy said he was frustrated that it did not include more specific descriptions of how the city could generate jobs and improve its relations with the business community.
The newly elected councilman said he did not realize that he was agreeing to a document that would be put before the public last month when he signaled his support for the council’s goals at its retreat.
“This is my first one, so I’ll just be silent from here on out,” he said.
Later in the day, he thanked his colleagues for adjusting the document and he voted for it.
Strickland said the goals the council set would address public safety issues by emphasizing job growth and education.
“If we say we’re going to solve crime, we’re kind of quietly making a promise to hire 100 more police officers as if that’s going to solve it,” she said.