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.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Revisiting stories: DC Councilmember constituent service funds

This is an issue again, after disclosure that Councilmember White gave money to an event not held in the city ("Trayon White donated to event where Louis Farrakhan bashed Jews," Washington Post and the Washington City Paper has a good article ("Do Constituent Services Funds Always Serve Constituents?") on the ongoing issues and problems with these funds, in both the Legislative and Executive branches. 

Also the WCP article from 2014, "Evans Constituent Service Fund Spends Another $26K on Sports Tickets," about CM Evans and his predeliction to use the funds for tickets to sports events, a kind of subsidy to the sports teams.

I've written about this over the years, and what I wrote before is equally relevant today

-- "The bane and benefit of constituent services funds: a response to the Washington Post editorial," 2015
-- "Interesting article on how constituent service provision by legislators reduces the likelihood of systemic change," 2012

In 2012, then Councilmember Tommy Wells dissolved his constituent services fund. Which I thought was a bad idea:

-- "Dumb... to fix bad practices, make them democratic instead of just eliminating them," 2012

Besides necessary tightening of what the monies can be used for, as I wrote ("Missing the point on constituent service/discretionary funds available from legislators," 2011):
The point isn't that the funds exist, but the arbitrariness and/or self-serving nature of how the funds are used/allocated.

The solution to the lack of democracy, openness, logic and transparency isn't taking the money away/eliminating the funding source--groups and projects need the opportunity to garner funds for worthy projects--it's to make the process more open, transparent, participatory, and democratic.

To use a hip term, "crowdsourcing" or some such might make the point better that the issue is to address the arbitrary and capricious nature of the allocation process, not to eradicate the funds.
I argued that rather than eliminate the funds, how about the allocation process be changed, that instead of the Councilmembers being responsible for giving the donations, and all the unseemliness that can happen as a result, how about having the funds be allocated through a "Participatory Budgeting Process," where citizens in the Councilmember's district (or entire city for At-Large members) make the decisions.

Of course, the participation process in the committee would have to not be rigged -- in other words, all interested citizens ought to be able to participate, not just people appointed by Councilmembers to a committee with the expectation that they will be toadies and make allocations the way that the Councilmember wants, without question.

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At 7:22 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

This story on participatory budgeting in NYC from the Brooklyn Eagle does make a good point, that the number of people involved in making the decisions, even if comprised of citizens, and using an open and transparent process, is small.

But rather than a "committee" process, people actually vote at poll, just as if it were an election where people vote for candidates. So of course the turnout will be low.

This is a sample ballot from 2012, for District 29 in Brooklyn.


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