Monthly Archives: October 2016

“Count Me In”

I attended yesterday’s advance screening of “Count Me In,” a one-hour documentary about participatory budgeting (PB) that focuses on the PB experience in four Chicago wards; the 5th, 22nd, 27th, and 49th. Three years in the making, we see groups of neighbors learn to work together to identify structural problems or omissions and vote to direct taxpayer monies toward partially or totally resolving them. The learning process–and the costs of funding improvements–become clear as he process unfolds.

The segment on the 29th Ward is especially interesting because Ald. Burnett, who initially refused to consider PB for his ward, finally used the process to involve his community in spending TIF funds–the only instance in which PB has been utilized in this way. Another part of the film details the experience at Sullivan High School, whose principal allowed the students to use the PB process to determine funding for school improvements.

The film showcases both the successes and failures of the process, which is informed and improved by the experiences of PB participants. Two examples stand out. In the first, a single, gerrymandered ward (the 22nd) with small communities of African-Americans and whites and a large Latino community experiences problems with its first PB voting. Not surprisingly, Latino projects were funded for the simple reason that there were more voters in that section of the ward choosing projects.  All three communities had to come together to determine ways to ensure that projects were funded more fairly in the future.

On the south side, we witness the disappointment of one resident whose proposal for a community garden was accepted by voters but who learned to his dismay that the funding agency refused to grant financing because there was an unsuccessful community garden three blocks from his proposed site. Securing PB funding meant going through yet another process of proving the need for his site, or, as he saw it, making him responsible for the failed garden. Citizens working together came up with a solution.

The film’s producer/director, Ines Sommer, who lives in Rogers Park, was on hand for a panel discussion afterwards, along with the 49th Ward’s PB liaison Cecelia Sanchez, Sarah Lisy, former head of the 49th Ward Leadership Team, Chad Addams, Sullivan’s principal, and Ald. Joe Moore.

The film will be broadcast on PBS this Thursday, November 3, at 8:00 p.m. on WTTW Channel 11.

Learn more about the film itself at its Web site.

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Participatory Budgeting Coming to 41st Ward

Ald. Anthony Napolitano has announced that he is instituting Participatory Budgeting (PB) in the 41st ward, giving his constituents the opportunity to vote on how $1 million in public monies will be spent. The 41st thus joins other progressive wards in allowing residents to participate in ward budgeting decisions, a sorry contrast to the 50th, where Ald. Silverstein insists on keeping the public out of monetary matters.

As regular readers of this space know, the push to bring PB to the 50th continues. The coming year will see a series of events to introduce 50th Ward residents to PB, and we will be relaunching the petition to put an advisory referendum on the ballot for 2019. We also intend to make PB an issue in the coming aldermanic race. It’s time for Silverstein to  make PB a reality in the 50th Ward.

Congratulations to residents of the 41st! A progressive, involved, pro-active alderman can accomplish great things by working with the community.

Residents of the 50th can only watch as other wards pass us by on the way to the future.

Free Film Screening About Participatory Budgeting in the 49th Ward

Alderman Joe Moore is hosting a free screening of a  PBS documentary that features the 49th Ward’s participatory budgeting process. The screening is  Sunday, October 30, from 2:00-3:30 p.m. at the New 400 Theater, 6746 North Sheridan Road. There will be a panel discussion about PB afterwards.

The film, “Count Me In,” was directed and produced by Ines Sommer; she will be one of the four panel participants, along with Cecelia Salinas, the 49th Ward’s PB liaison; Sarah Lisy, former Chair of the 49th Ward’s PB Leadership Team; and Chad Adams, principal of Sullivan High School, where the first student-led PB process took place.

To quote Ald. Moore, “Participatory budgeting is one answer to the question, how do you get citizens, who have become cynical about politics and frustrated with voting, involved in the decision-making process about what government does and how things get done?

The film traces the growth of Participatory Budgeting from its US. beginning in the 49th Ward and shows residents pitching ideas for a variety of projects, including street repairs, bike lanes and community gardens. Projects get researched, proposals crafted, and at the end, the entire community is invited to vote.

“Count Me In” explores the ups and downs of this new tool, offering an engaging, unvarnished look at what it will take to revitalize democracy from the ground up, not just in Chicago, but across the nation.”

Moore described PB as “a process that is changing how we talk about democracy.”

It’s a conversation that needs to continue in the 50th Ward.