Assuming no major news event today preempts tonight’s show, I will be a guest on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight show this evening (Monday, April 24th) at 7:00 p.m., discussing the Aldermanic “Menu” Program, the $1.3 million annual budget each alderman receives for infrastructure projects in their ward, and Participatory Budgeting, the democratic process the 49th Ward employs to determine how that money should be spent.
The Aldermanic Menu Program received additional attention last week in light of Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s report recommending the City’s Department of Transportation, rather than the local alderman, determine which street, alley, sidewalk, street light and bike path projects are needed.
I commend the Inspector General for examining the Menu program. Every City program deserves scrutiny. I agree wholeheartedly with his conclusion that the Chicago’s neighborhood infrastructure program is woefully underfunded and the decision-making process should be made more transparent citywide.
But I disagree strongly with his recommendation to hand over to unelected and unaccountable City bureaucrats the decision-making power on how to allocate ward’s infrastructure capital budget. This would lead to a process that is anything but transparent.
Instead the City should adopt the kind of “participatory budgeting” process eight of my City Council colleagues and I have implemented in our wards. If you are a 49th Ward resident, you undoubtedly are aware that participatory budgeting is an innovative six-month-long deliberative, community-driven budgetary process that gives the people of our ward the power to decide by direct vote how to spend a portion of a government budget.
For the past eight years, I have asked the residents of the 49th Ward to decide directly how to spend $1 million of my $1.35 million aldermanic menu allocation. In that time, 2,952 people have contributed ideas at neighborhood meetings and my office, 1,213 people have volunteered as community representatives, and 11,092 ballots have been cast by ward residents who voted how to best allocate my budget.
Our process is open and transparent and the outcome reflects the true needs and desires of my community’s residents. The participants in our process take into serious consideration the recommendation of the City experts, but ultimately the residents of my ward make the final call. Isn’t this what democracy should look like?
Coincidentally, the 49th Ward has just embarked on two weeks of community-wide voting on this year’s 49th Ward aldemanic menu, the culmination of our eighth annual participatory budgeting process. We kicked off early voting this past weekend.
During the next two weeks, you can vote early at the 49th Ward Service Office, 7356 N. Greenview (at Jarvis). To accommodate voters, the office will be open Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Early voting will also take place at other sites throughout the ward. You can also vote online.
To view the early voting site schedule and/or learn how to vote online, click here.
To view a sample ballot, click here.
To view a PowerPoint presentation of the proposed projects, click here.
Our voting period will conclude on Saturday, May 6th, with the official PB49 Election Day at the Chicago Math and Science Academy, 7212 M. Clark. Ward residents, ages 16 and older, who have not yet voted, are invited to the school to view displays designed by the community representatives who are advocating for the proposed projects that are up for a vote. It is an inspiring display of civic engagement at a time when people in our city and nation feel disempowered and disengaged from government.
Take a look at the Chicago Tonight program this evening and I hope to see you at the polls!