Kudos to four New York City Councilmembers who are letting residents of their districts have a say in how some discretionary funds are being spent. Joe Moore an Alderman from Chicago has also utilized Participatory Budgeting, which I discussed in a previous blog post.
People are so cynical and distrusting about how government operates, so I support any process that encourages and engages the public in government decisions. One of the quotes highlighted in the Times article says it all: “So far, I love feeling like we have some say in what is done,” said Maggie Tobin, a participant from Kensington, Brooklyn, in Council District 39.
The ability to dole out government money is power that all elected officials relish and are reluctant to share. When I served as Chief of Staff to the Buffalo Common Council the big question that every councilmember wanted to know when the Mayor’s budget was released was how much discretionary funding were they going to have access to. Very little discussion or debate took place regarding budget priorities or policies proposed by the Mayor. The only fighting or negotiating that took place primarily involved how much money Councilmembers could control.
Turning the power of determining funding priorities over to citizens is a great way to encourage and increase public participation in government. Very few elected officials have been willing to empower community residents to have a direct say regarding budget decisions. I applaud the four New York City Councilmembers and Alderman Moore in Chicago for empowering community residents and hope that this idea spreads to other local governments.
What do you think about the concept of Participatory Budgeting?