James Walton

This is a continuation of our Black History Month series about inspiring local figures. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here

Part 3: James Walton, Retired City Manager, City of Tacoma

I recently spoke with a young woman at the University Y Student Center. She is enrolled at the University of Washington Tacoma (UWT); she is also the very first person in her family to attend a university. She shared how much it meant to her parents that she was attending UWT; she knew they had worked hard to provide her with that opportunity. She also knew she wanted to show the way for her younger siblings; she needed to be a role model for them. It seemed like a lot of responsibility for a young person, but she was extremely grateful to have this opportunity and she was going to make the most of it.  

Being the first to do something, whether it is in your family or in your community, brings tremendous responsibility with it. Jim Walton was the first African American city manager for the City of Tacoma. When he accepted the position back in 2003, he knew the expectations were high from the Black community— – it was the first time they felt they had a voice in government for this region. Jim shared with me how he would be approached when he was getting a haircut at the barbershop, but never in his office; it was an indication to him of how disenfranchised the Black community felt from government. Though he felt he had made progress, he believes there is still that sense of disenfranchisement among the Black community. In addition to the added responsibility of being the first African American to have this role in government, he stepped into the position amidst a crisis in the city government. Having been a longtime civil servant. Jim knew what he was walking into, but he never wavered; he held true to his core values, something his mother instilled in him when he was a child. In the end, Jim effectively guided the city out of the crisis. He proved to be the right person for the job, something the religious leaders (now known as the Black Collective) in the Hilltop neighborhood of Tacoma knew back in the early 1970s, when they asked him to represent the Black community and work with the city manager at the time.

As a young man, Jim discovered his passion to work with communities to implement policies that would bring about longstanding change on behalf of the people who need it most. He devoted his entire life to making a difference in his community. Today, he reflects on being the first African American person to hold the position of city manager in Tacoma. He feels his work helped open doors for others to follow, but he is quick to point out that he was doing what was needed at the time to the best of his ability. From the very beginning of his 30 years in city government, Jim learned how to be effective in bringing needed change for the community. It was not easy, but he laid the groundwork for changes that are still happening today. He understood the high expectations of him, but, as he discovered, system change takes time. He looks back with pride on the work he was able to accomplish, and he remains active in the community to this day. He understands that community work never ends, and there will always be more work to do.

Every time I see Jim, I remind him that he was the one who hired me into this organization. He was a board member of the Tacoma Center YMCA back in 1983, and he has remained a longtime member. It is truly an honor to be associated with Jim. He is someone who has devoted his entire life to helping others. Thank you, Jim, for your contribution to our community.