YOU KNOW police officers, firefighters, judges, administrators, and more are working every day to support the City of Tullahoma. But do you know what that work actually looks like? Most residents have a limited understanding of the role of local government and municipal work.
In the summer of 2021, Tullahoma launched “Think Tullahoma 2040,” a “comprehensive development plan” to “serve as the guiding document for growth and development regarding land use, zoning, utility capacity and construction, economic development, traffic management, recreation, capital budgeting, provision of municipal services and facilities, housing, and community engagement,” according to city records.
City leaders encouraged community involvement in setting goals and a vision for future development over the next 20 years. Leaders held public meetings to discuss what was to be included in the plan. Officials found that many of those who wanted to be involved didn’t know how, and many didn’t understand how decisions for Tullahoma were made or implemented.
“We wanted to have more community involvement from people, and we found out through different things we’ve been doing with the city that a lot of people weren’t familiar with what all city government did,” Jordan Wilkins, assistant to the city administrator, said. “There was so much confusion over the planning commission [and] what it does—what is zoning, [and] what’s it for?”
Wilkins and others began looking around at what other cities of the same size were doing to increase community involvement. They found citizens’ academies across the country. He began drafting the curriculum and criteria for the first Tullahoma Citizens Academy.
“I hope people have the opportunity to learn through our departments,” he said. “I hope they take away a new understanding of how we work, what we do, and what city government is, and [are also] able to respect the work that we do.”
From field trips to simulations to lectures, citizens are provided training like that of an actual city employee to understand better what city departments do. Also, Wilkins said, the program allows residents to learn about ways they can get involved by filling vacancies on boards and committees.
“Everybody has been very glad to do this and create their curriculum and hear from other cities,” Wilkins said of Tullahoma’s departments.
The academy runs for five weeks, with most classes held from 6-8 p.m. on Thursday nights, and is open to groups of around 10 people.
“You’re going to get the benefit of it without it consuming all of your time,” Wilkins said.
When setting goals for the Tullahoma Citizens Academy, Wilkins looked to programs like the 10-month Coffee County Leadership program, which is a great success for the Tullahoma Area Chamber of Commerce and the Manchester Area Chamber of Commerce.
“The goal is that as this goes on, we get a lot of interest and this becomes a regular and big type of thing,” Wilkins said. “We hope this not only builds excitement and information for the community, but we hope it’ll be a great opportunity for our board and our staff to interact more with people in the community about their role.” GN