Neighborhood Councils: One way to be part of local government

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

I don’t know how many cities have a neighborhood council program, but Tacoma does. Even though most people don’t know – or even care – very much, Tacoma has a solid core of people from every neighborhood who step up and have a long-standing stake in the health and identity of each neighborhood.

There are a few things everyone should know about the neighborhood council program. First, we are NOT employees of the city – or any official agency. We live and work and spend our time in our communities; we know people and go places and perhaps even know a few things the ‘official’ people are unlikely to encounter.

If you see us at an event, you need to know two things; first, you probably won’t recognize us (unless we have already met) and second, we are there because we want to be. It is not our duty or obligation to attend (and support) community events. We are there because we want to be there.

Neighborhood councils act as an advisory group to city officials. We have very little ‘authority’ but we do organize and support events and support (and sometimes confront and oppose) city officials and agencies.

As you might guess, not everyone has the time, inclination or passion for such an unpaid commitment. Many neighborhood council members are retired or on flexible schedules. The rest of us squeeze spare moments from family, after work and outside of a variety of other obligations. Most of us have more interesting – and possibly rewarding – things we could be doing with our time.

We do it because we care. We do it because the kids in our neighborhood schools (who we may never meet) matter to us. We step up and make noise or dedicate money to crosswalks, potholes, community gardens or anything else we or our neighbors care about. We host forums on development, elections and local crime. At our meetings we welcome representatives from the City Council, the Port of Tacoma, Tacoma Public Utilities, Metro Parks, Tacoma Public Schools and many more agencies, non-profits and community groups.

We write letters of support (or opposition) on issues of importance to our neighbors. We step up when most people just complain. We have very little ‘authority’ but much responsibility.

If you are not involved already, I encourage you to look up your local neighborhood council meeting. If you get involved, you won’t get paid in cash. But you will be appreciated. Or not. You could make some new friends. Or some new enemies. You could even make a difference in your neighborhood – the difference only you could make.

Real change takes time – but it takes much more than time – it takes commitment and connection – it takes attention and presence. It’s like family or a career, or good health, or anything worth keeping; it takes work, sacrifice and caring. It costs a lot but it is always worth it. You will learn more about your neighborhood than you imagined possible. And you will see up close how complicated neighborhood issues can be.

Problems might not be solved, and agreements might not be reached, but sometimes a friendship emerges or a discovery is made and, once in a great while, neighbors come together and something close to a miracle occurs. Pot holes are fixed, trees are planted, garbage is picked up or a summer street fair brings together neighbors, and it only happens when people look up from their screens, step outside and work together.

Neighborhood council members are unpaid, unheralded and largely anonymous – and I wouldn’t have it any other way. You may love or hate the government, you may or may not trust your local officials, but your neighborhood is where you live; you can’t afford not to care.

About the Neighborhood Council Program
In 1992, Tacoma established Neighborhood Councils to advise City Council Members on local issues and to seek input from on specific plans of action. The Neighborhood Councils work on a variety of local improvements with staff from the City of Tacoma and other agencies. Each Neighborhood Council is as an independent, non-profit organization, promoting community-based efforts for neighborhood improvement. Any resident, business owner, employee, property owner or member of an existing neighborhood group can join a Neighborhood Council. Tacoma’s eight Neighborhood Council districts are Central Tacoma, the Eastside, New Tacoma, the North End, Northeast Tacoma, South Tacoma, the South End, and the West End. Find more information, online at