You Have a Date With Democracy--
Decide How Your Tax Dollars Will Be
Spent in the Ward
Around the United States and here in Chicago, city leaders are increasingly asking residents for suggestions about budget spending. Here in the 49th Ward, we're going one step further. Through a novel experiment in democracy, I'm not just asking for your opinion--I'm asking you to make real decisions about how we spend our money.
Over the next few months, I will be asking my constituents--the residents of the 49th Ward--to decide how to spend over $1 million in tax dollars.
Each alderman in Chicago gets over $1 million a year to allocate for various infrastructure improvements in his or her ward. This so-called "menu money" goes to resurface streets and alleys, repair sidewalks and curbs and gutters, put in new streetlights, and the like. I've also used the money to subsidize special infrastructure projects, such as the Harold Washington Playlot and the Willye White Community Center. This menu money is spent at the total discretion of each alderman.
Next year, I am ceding my decision-making authority to the residents of my ward through a process known as "PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING" in which all 49th Ward residents will be eligible to vote directly on the infrastructure projects that will be funded in our community.
The 49th Ward will be the first political jurisdiction in the nation to try such an approach. If this process works, I will make it a permanent fixture in the ward and hopefully inspire other elected officials to do the same in their communities.
Participatory budgeting is a process of democratic deliberation and decision-making in which ordinary residents decide how to allocate part of a municipal budget. In essence, how it works is that the municipal authorities turn over a portion of their budget to community residents who decide the spending priorities.
To find out more about participatory budgeting, CLICK HERE or scroll to the bottom of this email and click on the links I've provided.
Last spring, I brought together leaders of over 50 civic, religious and community organizations in the 49th Ward, and asked them to appoint one or two representatives from their organizations to serve on a steering committee to design a participatory budgeting process for the 49th Ward. The Participatory Budgeting Steering Committee was chaired by Jamiko Rose, Executive Director of the Organization of the Northeast
After several months of meetings, the Steering Committee developed the following three-step process and timetable that will culminate in a ward-wide meeting next spring when the entire community will deliberate and vote on the 49th Ward infrastructure spending priorities for 2010:
Step 1--Neighborhood Assembly Meetings (November and December 2009)
The ward will be organized into eight sections or areas, with a "neighborhood assembly" held in each area. In addition, a Spanish language assembly will be held. The neighborhood assemblies will be open to any 49th Ward resident. At each neighborhood assembly, the attendees will be given brief description of the infrastructure menu program and the participatory budgeting process. Meeting attendees will then be asked to brainstorm ideas for possible uses of the infrastructure menu money.
At the conclusion of the meeting, those who attended each assembly will be asked to elect "community representatives" who will be charged with developing proposals for spending the 49th Ward's 2010 infrastructure menu allocation.
Step 2--Community Representative Meetings (December-February 2010)
The community representatives will meet to develop proposals for use of the infrastructure menu money to be presented at a ward-wide assembly in the spring. The representatives, at their discretion, may call additional neighborhood assembly meetings to solicit additional suggestions and bounce off ideas.
Step 3--Ward-Wide Assembly Meeting to Deliberate and Vote on 2010 Infrastructure Spending Priorities (March or April 2010)
In the final step of the process, community residents will gather at a ward-wide assembly to deliberate and vote on the 2010 infrastructure spending priorities for the 49th Ward.
The process begins next week (Tuesday, November 3rd) with the first of a series of neighborhood assemblies. We ask that you attend the neighborhood assembly in your area. However, if that's not possible, you are free to attend a neighborhood assembly in another area.
FOR A SCHEDULE OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD ASSEMBLY MEETINGS, CLICK HERE or scroll to the bottom of this e-mail.
FOR A MAP OF THE 49TH WARD THAT DELINEATES THE NEIGHBORHOOD ASSEMBLY AREAS, CLICK HERE or scroll to the bottom of this e-mail.
This experiment in democracy will not work unless we have full and complete participation from all sectors of our diverse community, so I urge you to attend one of the neighborhood assemblies and bring your 49th Ward friends and neighbors. Most importantly, I urge you to bring your ideas.
I have full faith that the residents of the 49th Ward can decide what's best for our neighborhood, when given enough time, information, and support.