T-Town City Services Expo entertains and educates thousands at Tacoma Dome

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Parents and their children eagerly wait in line to board the City of Tacoma Public Works’ road grader. Equipment operator Lou McCaffery enjoyed the interaction with families at the Saturday event. Photo courtesy of City of Tacoma

City of Tacoma staff and public services personnel do a significant amount of work day-in and day-out ensuring that residents are served well, but exactly what they do and how they do it isn’t always apparent.

On Saturday, March 24, thousands of residents poured into the Tacoma Dome to experience first-hand the nuances and intricacies of the various city departments and the people who run them. It all was part of T-Town City Services Expo, a free family-friendly program – a biennial event that started in 2016 and coincides with the City’s biennium budget planning.

Two years ago, Katie Johnston, the City’s budget manager who originated the program, came to the realization that while the City was trying to engage the community and asking for feedback about the effectiveness of city services, in most cases residents didn’t have the opportunity to fully engage with the services offered in order to give informed feedback.

Public Works’ Traffic Terrace got children moving and exposed them to the importance of traffic signals and signage. Photo courtesy of City of Tacoma

T-Town, therefore, plays a dual role. The one-day program informs and educates the public about city services, while at the same time giving the public the opportunity to share in real-time how the City should use its resources. At the Office of Management and Budget table, a row of clear plastic tubs representing the Tacoma City Council’s Top 10 priorities for the 2018-2020 biennium budget were filled with multi-colored pebbles. Adults and children were given six pebbles to place in the priorities they deemed the most important.

The three priorities rising to the top on Saturday afternoon were homelessness, affordable housing, and public safety. The other seven priorities were civic engagement, digital access, economic development, regional cooperation, transportation, transit access, and walkability.

“T-Town helps to contextualize the services for residents,” Johnston said. “The whole point is to build trust and knowledge with residents, so when we’re asking for feedback, then we have that trust with them.”

Tyler Hemstreet and wife, Bracie, walked from their central Tacoma home to visit T-Town on Saturday. The couple brought their 4-year-old twin boys, Eli and Liam, and 10-year-old daughter, Ava.

“Rarely do you get to meet all the city services in one place without going to city hall,” Hemstreet said. “It was good, because we live right there. The twins love fire engines, police and garbage trucks. That was appealing to them to crawl (into the vehicles). The police boat was really cool. All the cops were really cool about answering questions about responses and what they do.”

Overall, Hemstreet said the program offered a good way to build relationships between the City and residents.

“Any way you can bring government to the people is good in my mind,” he said.

Mayor Victoria Woodards described T-Town as a “touchy-feely” program, ideal for children and families to truly touch and feel city services.

“It’s great for people to see what our city does day-to-day,” Woodards said. “It also helps our staff to see the positive impact their work has on people.”

One of the more impressive city service vehicles on display was the City of Tacoma Public Works’ bold-yellow road grader. The vehicle is used to grade alleys, repair potholes, and prep streets for asphalt.

On-hand Saturday to show children and families the vehicle and assist children to see what it was like in the driver seat was equipment operator Lou McCaffery. Employed with the City for going on 24 years, McCaffery is the operator of the vehicle. She said it was great to see children smile as they sat in the driver seat.

“It’s a great connection,” she said. “It shows kids and parents what our department is available to help them with.”

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