In summer 2013, race relations was becoming a priority issue among some of Tacoma’s community members, elected officials and city managers. Concerns initially centered on the mismatch between the demographics of the government workforce and the actual makeup of the city itself. In this context, several city managers and council members attended a “RACE: Are We So Different?” exhibit at the end of 2013 and decided to make racial equity and empowerment a priority in city government.
In support of this new direction, a June 2014 National Community Survey of Tacoma residents showed that 71% believe it is essential or very important to increase equitable access to city services and infrastructure. Building on this momentum, the city proposed an Equity and Empowerment Initiative that was adopted by the city council in October 2014.
In this resolution, the City of Tacoma defined equity as “when everyone has access to the opportunities necessary to satisfy their essential needs, advance their well-being and achieve their full potential.” This shared equity framework articulates a vision for an inclusive and equitable Tacoma, as well as a specific mission “to achieve equity in our service delivery, decision-making and community engagement… by identifying and eliminating the underlying drivers within our community that perpetuate racial inequity and provide opportunity for all.”
Tacoma’s equity framework further identifies five specific goals:
- For the city’s workforce to better reflect the community it serves.
- For more purposeful community outreach and engagement.
- For equitable service delivery to all residents and visitors.
- To support human rights and opportunities for everyone to achieve their full potential.
- To commit to equity in local government decision-making.
Tacoma established an Office for Equity and Human Rights (OEHR) in January 2015 with 10 dedicated full-time staff to advance these goals. As one step forward, the initiative invested in the capacity of the city’s leadership by providing racial equity workshops. In this effort, both top management and staff from the city’s Human Resources department (a total of 120 people) attended “Undoing Institutional Racism” workshops led by The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, which is based in New Orleans.
OEHR has taken steps on several fronts to further advance the city’s equity goals. To continue building capacity through internal infrastructure, the city established an internal ‘think tank’ comprised of both department directors and line staff to support innovation in equitable service delivery. To promote inclusive collaboration and engagement, the city launched a listening session series known as “Project Peace” to build understanding and trust between the community and the police department, as well as to structurally inform police planning for the coming year. Lastly, the city developed a handbook to promote equitable recruiting and hiring practices as a practical equity tool for staff to use.