PROCESS NEEDS FIXING
As a Delegate in the Participatory Budgeting Process in City Council District 32, I believe that the integrity of the PB process has been compromised. I expressed my concern and requested that Council Member Ulrich contact me to discuss this. I have not heard from him.
Some PB Delegates were disturbed by the distribution of funds between communities in last year’s PB process. These concerns were raised early on by Delegates this year. There was discussion about ways that we might facilitate a more equitable outcome. One idea was to change the voting process and require that voters pick a minimum number of projects. Another suggestion was to place a dollar maximum on individual projects.
On Feb 5, the Budget Delegates received an email from Council Member Ulrich’s aide informing us that the CM decided that he would let the Budget Delegates decide how to handle the voting this year.
The next PB Budget Delegate meeting was held on February 29. Budget Delegates selected the projects to be placed on the ballot, along with their dollar amounts. At the beginning of the meeting, Council Member Ulrich’s aide announced that the CM decided to leave the voting process as is for this year. Some, if not all, of the Budget Delegates had been given no notice of this prior to the meeting. This reversal and the fact that it was presented with no notice, limited the potential for negotiation among Delegates and the possibility of developing a fair ballot. While a lack of pricing information and high quotes from city agencies were contributing factors, the essence of the bias in the resulting PB ballot was due to Council Member Ulrich’s PB policy decisions.
On March 4, Council Member Ulrich’s aide informed the Budget Delegates, via email, that the CM decided to remove/add projects to the ballot. Based on experience with PB in City Council District 32, this will likely dilute the votes cast by Rockaway residents, and lead to the same type of inequity in the distribution of PB dollars that some Delegates were striving to eliminate.
While it is true that residents’ votes determine which of the projects get funded, this does not release Council Member Ulrich from his duty to his constituents to ensure that the PB process is impartial. When the ballot itself is constructed in an unfair manner, the whole voting process is compromised. Council Member Ulrich’s actions thwarted Budget Delegates’ ability to develop a fair PB ballot and undermined the unification of communities in his district. History need not repeat itself, when we have the courage to do the right thing.