Thoughts on my first year in office – The Suburban Times
Jani Hitchen Office, Pierce County Council, District 6 Announcement.
It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a year since I joined the Council, but it has, and I really enjoyed working for the 6 community members.e District and County of Pierce as a whole. Thank you to everyone who asked questions, ideas or concerns, and who really tried to work together to find solutions and make improvements.
The staff I have the pleasure of working with are incredible. If you called my office or met me at an event, you may have met Annette Swillie, my assistant, who organizes me. She is an amazing partner in the work I do and takes care of all inbound calls and mails to make sure your voice is heard and we are following up. I couldn’t do this job without her.
The learning curve for this career change was steep, but I took it on my own, accessing the resources of many professional organizations like the WSAC (Washington Association of Counties) and NACo (National Association of Counties), and other elected officials from the region. It took me a bit of rethinking to come to the reality that I can’t solve every problem that comes up in my office. My teacher’s brain always wants to solve all problems. However, I made a point of engaging with as many community members as possible and making sure I had the best information available to make decisions on behalf of the 6.e District and county.
I am grateful to have been part of the Council which accomplished the following in 2021:
- SUPPORT CAREERS OF INJURED VETERANS AFFAIRS: Brought the Hidden Heroes program to Pierce County, which will provide resources and support to those caring for our injured veterans. Anyone who’s ever been a caregiver understands how exhausting it is. Caregivers often juggle things that were not planned when their partner or family member first signed up to serve our country. We can support them through networking, access to local and national services and in general offer them opportunities to talk with people doing the same.
- INVESTING IN YOUTH: This year we will start 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 to improve the educational outcomes of underserved youth. Thanks to the collaboration with the Birth to 25 council, we made the first impactful investments, such as expanding access to childcare services with more than $ 8 million to support access to services, granting of grants to open or reopen small child care businesses and increase the capacity of existing programs.
- EQUITY COORDINATOR: We have created a new position in our social services department to engage in full-time equity work across the county. Our new Equity Community Engagement Specialist will work with two new organizations created by Council: the Refugee and Immigrant Affairs Commission and the Pierce County Fairness Review Committee. I was delighted to reach out to local organizations that are already engaged in this work to see what it would look like and could look like. Thanks to their comments and suggestions, we have come up with a proposed job description and are looking to hire someone in 2022.
- INVESTMENTS IN HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS: Affordable housing and homelessness have been huge budget discussions over the past six months. Before the pandemic, we experienced a crisis of lack of affordable housing and not enough emergency shelter space. The pandemic struck and everything got worse. Housing prices have skyrocketed and we know that finding affordable housing, whatever it is, is a challenge right now. We recently helped buy a hotel and are planning to buy another one. Both will function as emergency shelters and the goal is to transform the spaces into supportive housing over time. We are also launching new projects around affordable (accessible and sustainable) housing, because home ownership is a way for families to create generational wealth.
- FIREWORKS CHANGES: Changes to our fireworks rules in Pierce County have been a long time coming. From 2022, fireworks will be allowed on December 31, then in 2023, they will be limited to July 4 and December 31 only. This will reduce the impact on community members, our pets and other animals. As our summers get drier and drier, we wanted to make sure there was a way for our fire experts to stop the fireworks in unincorporated Pierce County when the danger was extreme. The method that was in place was problematic and did not use a clear and easy test method. Now there are specific types of testing to be done, communication timelines to follow, and public awareness. In addition, we wanted to limit the time they are allowed in our neighborhoods. We have thousands of community members who are traumatized by the fireworks and tens of thousands of animals. Limiting it to July 4th and adding it to be legal on New Years Eve will help those who need a getaway to plan accordingly.
- 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 school districts (Clover Park and Franklin Pierce) and the Tacoma-Pierce County Department of Health to provide services to families in the community. In addition to the diaper banks, they provide connections for community members who come to their doorstep looking for many different supports. They have amazing parenting programs for first-time parents to those looking for support on how to raise teenagers. They access and provide help navigating many social safety net programs and generally 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 of people in our community.
There are so many other things that I had the opportunity to be a part of over the past year. But my favorite by far is to organize meetings with the community. I enjoy hearing ideas, thinking about solutions and looking for ways to improve the 6e Pierce District and County. I’ve met hundreds of community members and every introduction, every conversation is part of the story behind the work I focus on through politics and the budget. If we haven’t had a chance to meet up, please sign up for my newsletter to be notified of upcoming events and updates on what we are doing.
Stay safe, enjoy this time in any way that suits you and wishing you a peaceful holiday season.