Have you ever heard of JMAC? No?
Neither had Tacoma School Board Member Elizabeth Bonbright.
But now she’s enthusiastically leading the group through a reboot to bring it from an organization operating quietly in the background since the mid-1970s to a force that aims to bring real, significant change to the people in Tacoma and Pierce County.
The Joint Municipal Action Committee (JMAC) is a consortium of local agencies that’s long sought to improve life in the Greater Tacoma area through collaboration. Member groups are:
- Tacoma Public Schools
- City of Tacoma
- Metro Parks Tacoma
- Port of Tacoma
- Puyallup Tribe of Indians
- Pierce County
- Pierce Transit
Two elected officials from each of the organizations meet monthly. CEOs from the agencies join the meetings quarterly.
JMAC’s most significant collaboration—Community Schools—began in its early years among its three original members and lasted two decades. Community Schools offered a wide range of evening courses and activities for youth and adults. TPS provided its middle schools as the meeting sites. Metro Parks provided the instructors. And the City of Tacoma administered and organized the program and hired site coordinators city-wide. The program ended only after an economic downturn required the member agencies to reduce their budgets.
After reviving itself, JMAC is back to work. During the pandemic, JMAC members began to see that, if they retooled a bit, they could get a lot more oomph out of their collective work on common issues.
“We started to ask ourselves what we want to be,” said Bonbright, JMAC’s current chair. “We saw we are underutilizing the potential of this forum, and we started to see the greater possibilities of what we could do together.”
Bonbright came to that conclusion early in the pandemic when it seemed Tacoma Public Schools would not get the expected amount of state funding for its transportation services. While the school district was not transporting students at that point, school buses were delivering meals to students across the city, providing a much-needed service to those who needed it most. Without the funding, the service could not continue.
“The members of JMAC made a huge deal about that to our legislators,” Bonbright said. “There was a sense of ‘these are all our kids.’ Our JMAC colleagues made enough of a push to help make a difference, and that was huge for the school district. We ended up getting a waiver to get the funding we needed to operate our buses for meal deliveries. JMAC’s voice added weight to a uniform message from school districts across the state.”
As the pandemic went on, JMAC developed a heighted awareness of how their individual organizations’ work related to the others.
“We already had tight relationships. But we were always working on projects unique to our organizations,” Bonbright said. “We realized we want to think more collectively and aligned, so JMAC becomes a place where elected officials are able to communicate and share and move big picture policy and goals together.”
How to get there from here?
JMAC members set about to imagine what a highly successful future for their group would look like in 2025, and what they came up with is no small task to make happen. What they foresee is working as an effective whole across three strategic themes:
- Increase racial justice, equity, diversity and inclusion
- Provide long-term community wealth building
- Address public health and safety
Each strategic theme is equally important, and none can be done without the others.
To make progress, the members of the group will need to lean on each other more than ever, said Marty Campbell, JMAC member, Pierce County Councilman for District 5 and former Tacoma City Councilman.
“Government should be able to work with each other. When TPS succeeds, Pierce County succeeds. We have a vested interest in each other’s success,” Campbell said.
Before they can start working toward those three “buckets,” JMAC member agencies must determine and communicate what work they are already doing in these areas and where gaps exist. From there, they’ll take a draft plan to a larger group of community organizations and individuals to ask for feedback to help determine if they’re on the right track.
The members of JMAC know this work with be worthwhile, but not easy. To succeed, they must investigate their own practices to uncover overlap in effort and spending, and what work is effective and what’s not. Most of all, said Metro Parks Tacoma Executive Director Shon Sylvia, JMAC members need to examine how to best leverage what they each provide to the community.
“For example, Metro Parks has a ranger program. TPS has a school patrol. Pierce Transit has safety officers. How do they connect?” Sylvia asked. “Maybe there’s an opportunity to reimagine what we do, what we spend and how we deliver services. You have to be willing to look at things differently for all boats to rise. It will take creativity and innovation.”
With this refreshed outlook, the group is updating its mission to provide needed services and access to citizens in a collaborative way that drives each organization’s policies.
“We will succeed in this because of partnership,” Bonbright said. “We’re stronger together.”
If you hadn’t heard about JMAC before, get ready to hear more about it soon.
About Tacoma Schools
Tacoma Public Schools is the only district designated an Innovation Zone by Washington State. A leader in implementing innovative schools and programs to meet the diverse needs of every student, every day, TPS serves approximately 30,000 students from preschool to grade 12 and at nearly 5000 employees is one of the largest employers in Tacoma. Learn more...