Earlier this year City Councilman Robert Thoms was deployed to Afghanistan as part of his commitment to the National Guard. Rather than have an election for a post that would only be necessary for a few months, the city asked for applicants and appointed one from the list of applicants. I was one of those applicants, but the city rightly chose Justin Camarata to fill that spot. When I saw Justin’s name on the list of potential appointees, his name along with a couple of others were people I honestly felt would do a better job than myself.
As Justin winds up his short tenure as councilman, I thought it might be good to have him do a 5 Question Friday and let us know what he thought of the experience. Here’s Justin:
1. Why did you choose to throw your hat into the ring to be a City Councilman?
I won’t lie – I’ve been interested in doing this for a long time. I love this city, I love policy and politics, I love working with a broad range of people, and I felt I had things to contribute and the ability to get into the weeds when necessary. It all happened pretty fast, but the timing was right and I think there was excitement over what we could get done with my being there.
2. What do you wish you knew before you began serving as a City Councilman?
The biggest one would be that if something seems like an obvious or easy policy fix from the outside, there’s a 95% chance it isn’t. There are often studies to commission, individual councilmember concerns to address, other governmental jurisdictions or City departments that need to (or want to) weigh in, and generally you can’t just wave something into or out of existence. I sort of knew and expected this to a degree, but seeing things from this perspective has been really eye opening and I think I’ll always view government a little differently as a result.
3. What are some of the highlights of your time on the council?
The City’s relationship with the Puyallup Tribe has been improving this year–getting to know their tribal council, being a guest at events they’ve hosted, and cosponsoring the resolution to place their flag in Council chambers has been something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. There are still big things to work through with them but given how strained it’s often been in the past, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Tacoma history has been happening and I’m genuinely happy to get to be part of that.
Working on housing issues has been frustrating at times, especially as the market has absolutely exploded over the past year or two, but knowing we’re doing things that will help literally tens of thousands of people keep a roof over their heads is gratifying. Be on the lookout for a big renters rights ordinance very soon, in addition to a continued focus on adding a lot more affordable housing inventory.
Voting to appoint the first woman to be the new Director of Tacoma Public Utilities, during the first time the Council got to vote on that appointment, was pretty cool. Jackie Flowers is incredibly talented and accomplished, including in municipal broadband (we need that for Click), and she’s going to do an amazing job in a role that’s really critical for the overall quality of life in Tacoma.
Beyond all of this, I’ve also been on a tour of organizations and events throughout the city. I’ve met with businesses, labor unions, political groups, neighborhood councils, faith organizations, business districts and associations, and activist groups and gone to dozens of events. It’s been a blast and I’ve met so many great people who deeply love and care about Tacoma in their own ways and want to help it succeed. That’s absolutely been a highlight.
4. What’s something many people don’t know about the City Council?
Six of the nine of us are in our early 40s or younger, and six of the nine of us (though not the same six of the nine) are transplants to Tacoma from other places. I personally think that’s really great, because Tacoma as a city is likewise full of people who wound up here for some reason or another and chose to stay.
Also, this Council is very accessible. If you want a meeting with any of us, or with Mayor Woodards, you can probably get one. One of the things I love about local government in a city like ours is that you can get involved, meet key people, and have a real impact on things in a way you can’t at the national level. I think people often assume their local leaders are out of touch and inaccessible, but that is not the case at all. You’ll see us in many of the same places you go to yourself and we’re generally always happy to talk.
5. What are your post-City Councilman plans?
I’m still figuring that out. I’m definitely not going anywhere, and I’m going to keep working on things just like I was before I joined Council, whatever form that takes. Short term, I’ve got a stack of books I want to read and my wife and kids wouldn’t mind a vacation.
Thanks to Justin for serving as City Councilman and taking the time to participate in 5 Question Friday. If you or someone you know would like to join me for a 5 Question Friday drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.