Give Thanks: Reflections on my first year in office

Give Thanks: Reflections on my first year in office

It is hard to believe that it has almost been one year since I joined Council, but it has, and I have truly enjoyed working for the community members of the 6th District and Pierce County as a whole. I am thankful to all the people that reached out with questions, ideas or to raise concerns, and truly tried to work together to find solutions and make improvements.

Photo of Councilmember Jani Hitchen and Annette Swillie

The staff that I have the pleasure of working with are amazing. If you called my office or ran into me at an event, it is possible you met Annette Swillie my assistant who keeps me organized. She is an amazing partner in the work that I do, and carefully cares for all incoming calls and mail to make sure your voice is heard, and we follow through. I could not do this work without her.

The learning curve for this career change was steep, but I undertook it by jumping in, accessing resources from many professional organizations like WSAC (Washington Association of Counties) and NACo (National Association of Counties), and other elected officials in the region. It took a little bit of re-thinking for me to come to the reality that I cannot solve every problem that comes across my desk. My teacher brain always wants to solve every problem. However, I made a point of engaging with as many community members as possible and to make sure I had the best information available to make decisions on behalf of the 6th District and the county.

I am thankful to have been part of the Council that accomplished the following in 2021:

  • SUPPORTING CAREGIVERS OF WOUNDED VETERANS: Brought the Hidden Heroes Program to Pierce County which will provide resources and support for those caring for our wounded Veterans. Anyone that has ever been a caregiver understands how exhausting it is. Caregivers are often juggling things that were not anticipated when their partner or family member signed up to the serve our country. We can support them through networking, access to local and national services and in general provide them opportunities to talk with people doing the same thing.
  • INVESTING IN YOUTH: This year we will begin using a new fund called the Puget Sound Taxpayer Accountability Act Fund (PSTAA). The dollars come to the county through the state specifically to work on improving education outcomes for underserved youth. Through collaboration with the Birth to 25 Board we made some impactful first investments, like expanding access to childcare with over $8 million to support access to services, providing grant funds to open or reopen small childcare businesses, and increasing capacity in existing programs.
  • EQUITY COORDINATOR: We created a new position in our Human Services Department to engage full time on equity work across the county. Our new Equity Community Engagement specialist will work with two new Council-created bodies: The Commission on Refugee and Immigrant Affairs and the Pierce County Equity Review Committee. I was excited to reach out to local organizations that are already engaged in this work to see what it would and could look like. With their feedback and suggestions, we crafted a proposed job description and look to hire someone in 2022.
  • HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS INVESTMENTS: Attainable housing and homelessness were huge budget discussions over the last six months. Before the pandemic we had a crisis of a lack of affordable housing and not enough emergency shelter space. The pandemic hit and everything got worse. Housing prices have skyrocketed, and we know that finding an affordable home of any kind right now is a challenge. We recently helped purchase one hotel, and plan to buy an additional one. Both will work as emergency shelter space and the goal is to transition the spaces to supportive housing over time. We also are starting new projects around affordable (attainable and sustainable housing), as home ownership is a way for families to create generational wealth.
  • FIREWORKS CHANGES: Changes to our fireworks rules in Pierce County were a long time coming. Starting in 2022 fireworks will be allowed on Dec. 31, and then in 2023 they will be limited to July 4 and Dec. 31 only. This will reduce the impact on community members, our pets, and other animals. As our summers become drier, we wanted to make sure there was a way for our fire experts to shut down fireworks in unincorporated Pierce County when the danger was extreme. The method that was in place was problematic and didn’t use a clear and easy way to test. Now there are specific types of tests to be done, communication timelines to follow and public outreach. In addition, we wanted to limit the time they are allowed in our neighborhoods. We have thousands of community members that are traumatized by fireworks, and tens of thousands of animals. Limiting to the Fourth of July and adding it so it is legal on New Year’s Eve, will help those that need to get away time to plan around it.
  • SUPPORTING FAMILIES ACROSS THE COUNTY: Family Support Centers are a fantastic partnership across the county in specific locations. In District 6 we have one in Lakewood and one in Parkland. Both work with the school districts (Clover Park and Franklin Pierce), and the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department to provide services to families in the community. Along with diaper banks, they provide connections to community members coming to their door looking for many different supports. They have amazing parenting programs for first time parents all the way to those looking for support on how to parent teens. They have access to and provide help with navigating many different social safety net programs and in general know their community and where to access help. I had the opportunity to attend the opening of the Franklin Pierce Family Support Center in November; this new resource center will be a blessing for thousands in our community.

There are so many other things that I have had the opportunity to be part of in the last year. But my favorite by far is hosting meetings with the community. I love hearing ideas, brainstorming solutions, and looking for ways we can improve the 6th District and Pierce County. I have met hundreds of community members and every introduction, every conversation, is part of the story behind the work I focus on through policy and budget. If we have not had the chance to meet, please sign up for my newsletter so you get the notification for upcoming events and updates on what we are up to.

Stay safe, enjoy this time in whatever way works for you and wishing you a peaceful holiday season.

CM Hitchen first name signature