Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

More on ethics: discretionary funding-constituent funds

Participatory Budgeting NYC materials
Flickr photos from the participatory budgeting process for NYC Councilman Jumaane D. Williams by Daniel LeTorre.

In the DC ethics discussion, there has been a lot of criticism laid against constituent service funds, which in DC are funded by donations ("D.C. city funds for needy used more for perks" from the Washington Times).

Unlike Greater Greater Washington ("The DC Council should abolish Constituent Service Funds") I am not against such funds, because neighborhood projects, community groups, and people down on their luck can use such help. It's easy to criticize these funds, until you have to try to fund an important project, and you discover that your sources are really quite limited.

The trick is to open up the process. To focus on democracy and participation and transparency rather than elimination of a potentially important resource for civil society and organization--albeit the money comes with more than a hint of patronage.
Participatory Budgeting NYC Disctric 45 Map
Gotham Gazette, the newsletter of New York City's Citizen Union Foundation, has an article, "Dividing the Dollars," on how 4 of New York City's 51 Councilmembers, are using a citizen-centric participatory budgeting process to guide discretionary capital budgeting in their districts. From the article:

Under the plan, resident volunteers take ideas from residents of their community and work with their council member to come up with a budget plan for capital projects. This will affect only the pot of money -- often castigated as pork -- that members get to allocate to their communities as they see fit. It will not apply to expense items, just money for new building or equipment or improvements to facilities. And so far only four of 51 council member are participating: Brad Lander of District 39, Jumaane Williams of District 45 in Brooklyn, Eric Ulrich of District 32 and Melissa Mark-Viverito of District 8.

Most districts will allocate about a million dollars to the project though the exact amount of available discretionary will be determined by the council speaker, in the spring. Districts can usually count on several million each, some of which is already allocated to ongoing projects.

NYC Council Districts get a few million dollars/year for such discretionary projects, although the overall process of budgeting to specific Councilmembers is subject to whim based on who is in favor with the Chair of the Council and who isn't. See "Dividing the Wealth: Who Gets the Council's Discretionary Funds" also from Gotham Gazette.
Participatory Budgeting NYC one group's capital budget ideas

-- New York City Council application for discretionary funding grants
-- Materials, Participatory Budgeting in New York City
New York City Council application for discretionary funding grants

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