Learn what city government does when you’re not looking

The city of Maple Valley has introduced a new way of interacting with community members

It’s not often community members can see what city crews really do when they aren’t looking.

Maple Valley is trying to change that by hosting an event called “Behind the Curtains,” every quarter of the year.

Behind the Curtains, according to City Manager Laura Philpot, is an event that will allow citizens to see what city employees do, ask questions about city topics and be able to see the facilities they work in.

Philpot said the city staff is always looking for ways to connect more with the community and let people know what they do. She said they also want to be there to answer questions for community members when they have them.

“I think we just thought as staff it would be fun and informational if we opened up some of our facilities and topics that we don’t traditionally talk about. So we want to rotate quarterly to different places. I mean we don’t have a lot of places to choose from, but we have the public works maintenance facility, the lodge and City Hall. So kind of rotate and do some different types of open houses so folks can learn more about what their local government does,” Philpot said.

The first Behind the Curtain was hosted at the maintenance facility in Maple Valley on Nov. 15.

Philpot said community members met the crew and saw what sort of equipment they use.

She said usually the city manager and some of the directors in the city are the face of Maple Valley, but they want to change that.

According to Philpot, it will be nice for people to actually meet the hardworking people who plow their streets during winter storms.

“I don’t know if it was last year or the year before, actually on Christmas while we were all tucked away, warm in our homes, having a nice Christmas, our crews were out plowing the streets to keep it safe for everybody. So it’s nice to have a face with that so they know who’s doing that work,” she said.

Some people may have a misperception about how a government looks as well, Philpot said. She went onto say that some people believe city governments have a ton of people to handle everything, but in the Maple Valley maintenance department there are only four workers.

She said two will work the first 12 hours shift and then the other two will work the second 12 hour shift when there is snow and ice out on the roads.

“I think it’s kind of an eye opener for folks that there’s only two people handling the whole city and they do such a fabulous job,” Philpot said.

Also at the event Philpot said they passed out snow and ice route maps to community members who attended.

People were also able to view the emergency operations facility (EOS) that is on the same campus as the maintenance facility.

The EOS is where city staff would go if there was a serious disaster and City Hall was not functional, Philpot said. At the EOS she said there is a backup generator and phone banks, so it’s set up well to handle that type of situation.

While at the event, community members were also able to enjoy light snacks and warm drinks on the cold fall day.

Philpot said she hopes people were impacted in a positive way by the event.

“I hope is that knowledge is power. And relationships are built on trust and trust comes when you know the people and it’s really hard,” she said.

There weren’t as many people there as Philpot said she had hoped there would be, but that may have had to do with bad scheduling.

She said during the event there was a Seahawks game going on, which may have kept people from wanting to attend.

“But we did have a number of our council members there as well as a handful of folks from the public, including a few children. I think everyone who was there really enjoyed the opportunity to meet the crew and the folks who were out doing the work,” Philpot said.

To keep the fun going, she also said they were able to turn the Seahawks game on for people to enjoy while they learned more about the maintenance department.

Kids were able to enjoy climbing on top of a snow plow and having the opportunity to sit in it as well.

The next step is sorting through other ideas and figuring out what their next Behind the Curtain event will focus on.

Philpot said talking about finances might be a good topic for citizens to learn about next.

“I think it’s a little bit of an unknown for some folks about how the city finances work and where their tax dollars go. So we might have a session on that,” she said.

Other interesting areas of the city for citizens to learn more about is Parks and Recreation and the police department, Philpot explained.

She said she would also really like to have an open house at City Hall soon too.

Even though the event did not go quite as planned, Philpot said she isn’t going to stop running Behind the Curtain events, not yet.

“We definitely won’t give up right away. Sometimes new events are always competing with people’s personal schedules. We’ll definitely give it a good year or two before decide to throw in the towel or not, but I hope it’s popular and I hope folks spread the word and say, ‘Hey, it was useful and fun,’” she said.

Next year to make the event seem a little more appealing, Philpot said one of the maintenance workers, Desmond Weaver, came up with the idea to allow citizens to come out and paint the snow plows on the plow part.

Next year, she said they won’t plan for the event to be on a Seahawks game day as well…

“Sometimes people might think government is big and scary or just kind of this entity, but I want our community to know we’re real people and the staff here are dedicated to serving the community and know who those faces are so that when they have questions or concerns, they feel comfortable reaching out and contacting us instead of just being frustrated,” Philpot said.

She would also like to encourage people to sign up for eNotices from the city. To sign up, go to www.maplevalleywa.gov/what-s-happening/sign-up-for-enotices.

In case of a disaster, Philpot said to sign up for CodeRED. To sign up, go to www.public.coderedweb.com/CNE/en-US/BF0D5C5CC09C.

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Gretchen Leigh is a stay-at-home mom who lives in a neighborhood near you. You can read more of her writing on her website livingwithgleigh.com. To see her columns come to life, follow her on Facebook at Living with Gleigh by Gretchen Leigh.
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