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, June 23, 2015

Participatory "budgeting" and disposition of funds from legal settlements

Participatory budgeting is a method of allocating discretionary funds through a citizen involved and led process.

-- Participatory Budgeting Project

The initiative started in South America, and over the past few years elected officials in a number of cities, including New York City and Chicago, have used the method as a way to set priorities and allocate discretionary funds to projects in their Council Districts.

Boston has use PB initiatives as a way to increase youth involvement ("What Happened When the City of Boston Asked Teenagers for Help With the Budget," Next City).

Image from Californians for Justice.

More recently, the Mayor of San Jose, Sam Liccardo, who as Councilmember proposed using participatory budgeting methods as a way to better engage citizens in local government, proposes to use PB processes on a wider scale ("Budget input from community set for March," San Jose Mercury-News).

San Jose also uses a form of PB, called "Budget Games," as a way to make recommendations on the city's general budget ("San Jose residents play 4th annual Budget Games," Conteneo).

DC Attorney General directs settlement monies to past affiliations.  The Washington City Paper reports in "Nonprofits With Racine Ties Benefit in Chartwells Settlement," how some of the monies from a recent legal settlement with Chartwells over allegations of wrongdoing concerning the company's execution of its food service contract with DC Public Schools are being directed to charities with ties to Attorney General Karl Racine.  From the article:
Last week, Racine announced that his office had settled with Chartwells for $19.4 million over whistleblower claims that its food was regularly late or spoiled. The settlement inspired two councilmembers to call for investigations of Chartwells' continuing contract with DCPS. ... 
The settlement worked out well for five nonprofit groups that will receive a combined $5 million from Chartwells as part of the agreement. $500,000 of that money will go to Everybody Wins! DC, a literacy nonprofit whose board Racine served on until his election. Another $150,000 went to the Abramson Scholarship Foundation, which also once had Racine on its board.

Racine spokesman Robert Marus says OAG came up with the list of organizations that would receive Chartwells money. "They were groups he was familiar with," Marus says. Marus says there's nothing inappropriate about Racine approving a settlement that benefits organizations whose boards he once worked on. "There's no conflict here," Marus says.
Why not use Participatory Budgeting techniques instead?  Such funds shouldn't be allocated arbitrarily and capriciously according to the whims and past relationships of the Attorney General.

Even if such organizations do good work and there is no reason to believe that they do not, it would be best for settlement monies to be allocated in a public process towards projects defined as priorities in a public exercise that determines community consensus priorities. Participatory budgeting methods would be a perfect way to do this.

It would also extend the concept of democracy in the city, of which the creation of a separately elected AG position was a recent step forward.

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