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Aldermen Thu Oct 18 2012

Cappleman OK with Giving up a Bit of Power

It's not often you hear about a Chicago alderman willingly relinquishing power.

But Ald. James Cappleman is doing just that.

Cappleman's 46th Ward is one of four wards in the city (the others being the 5th, 45th and 49th) taking part in what's known as participatory budgeting. Through participatory budgeting, ward residents -- rather than aldermen -- get the chance to decide what to do with $1 million of aldermanic discretionary funds, which are known as "menu money." The only caveat? Menu money must only be used for capital improvement projects, rather than programs or services.

Although the 49th Ward has gone through the participatory budgeting process every year since 2009, this is the first time the other wards -- including the 46th -- are taking part.

On Wednesday evening, about a dozen residents of Cappleman's Uptown ward gathered in the cafeteria of Thorek Hospital to kick around ideas for spending 2012's menu money. Among the ideas were sidewalk repairs, public art projects, solar-powered trash compactors and community gardens.

Deciding how to spend the annual menu money is a four-step process, according to Maria Hadden, a project coordinator at Participatory Budgeting Chicago. Step one, she said, are the neighborhood meetings, which will take place throughout October at various sites in each participating ward. At those meetings, residents kick around ideas for spending the menu money.

After the neighborhood assemblies, residents who signed up to be community representatives will meet several times between November and March to decide the final list of projects for which ward residents can vote. The third step, voting on which projects will receive menu money, will happen in May, Hadden said.

Dino Iaconetti, who has lived near the intersection of Leland and Sheridan for about six years, believed a good chunk of the menu money should be used for beautification efforts.

"We've got to increase curb appeal of properties in Uptown," he said, adding that more green space and planters would go a long way toward accomplishing that goal. "We don't have new businesses coming in."

At the same time, Iaconetti said, the annual allotment of menu money is not much and he recognizes that other people may have different ideas for how to spend it.

"It's only a million dollars," he said. "It doesn't go very far."

Hadden, a 49th Ward resident who got involved with Participatory Budgeting Chicago after seeing how it worked in her ward, told the crowd the same thing.

"It seems like a lot of money at first," she said. "But it needs to go a long way."

Cappleman said he wanted to implement participatory budgeting in his ward in order to really give residents a say in how the money is spent, rather than just paying them lip service.

"It's easy for an alderman to say, 'I listened to what the people want and this is my decision,'" he said.

Cappleman acknowledged that while going through the participatory budgeting process, residents might make some decisions about spending the menu money he doesn't care for. But, he said, that doesn't matter because the goal is not to make him happy, but rather to do the greatest good for the ward.

"Will there be some decisions I don't like? Absolutely," he said."My goal is to make a strong community. I don't have to have my way."

Cappleman said that even if he feels that the idea which gets the most votes in May is ridiculous, he won't veto the decision of his constituents. He knows giving up the power over the menu money is a risky decision, but it's one he's comfortable with.

"In a sense, I'm being asked to give up some of that power," he said. "I'm OK with it."

 

JP Paulus / October 18, 2012 2:41 PM

We'll have to see how that REALLY works. There is Cappleman's power base, who you can see through Uptown Update (look through old blog posts on Helen Shiller, then look at the comments). He certainly can't ignore them -- if he does, he's out of office.

They are fairly well organized -- certainly doing an internet search of Uptown, they seem to be what Uptown is about.


But will Cappleman listen to the hundreds of people who live in towers with subsisdized husing, or the low rises.

Will they be allowed to speak (or even a real effort to hear their opinion)?

If you go to those meetings -- see how many black and brown people are there. Will you see any Nigerians, Carribeans, Ethiopians, Vietnamese...? Uptown is suppsoedly diverse...will you see that at these meetings?

Emily Williams / October 18, 2012 3:36 PM

If people of color don't show up at the meetings, what does that prove to you? The notice i got didn't say people like me weren't welcome. If more people of color don't show up, it's because they aren't interested. It's like voting, if you don't do it, too bad, so sad that you're disappointed in the choices made by the people who did bother.

Jeff Littleton / October 18, 2012 11:57 PM

I have been a facilitator at both meetings and while attendance has been low out of the gate some great ideas with plenty of specifics have been presented.

This new process takes time to pick-up interest but it will.

Dawn Hastings / October 19, 2012 7:15 AM

@Emily Williamsn, Thank you Emily! - you took the words right out of my mouth. @JP Paulus - You can't voice your opinions if you don't show up. This is a GREAT idea and hope to be a part of the next meeting.

KN / October 19, 2012 9:39 AM

If people of a select subset don't show up, the concern is that outreach was not provided to members of that community subset. They may not know about the process at all--they may not have internet access to read about it online, or may not speak English proficiently. So it's a bit short sighted to say that a segment of the total population didn't show up because they weren't interested.

Jeff Littleton / October 19, 2012 10:08 AM

We will be having the next 3 meetings in Uptowm proper and there has been outreach into other "subsets". There will be more and this is a long process so if anyone has any ideas of HOW to reach people please share it.

KN / October 19, 2012 10:19 AM

Jeff Littleton--I know Maria Hadden, she's fantastic, as is the whole staff of the PBP in NY. I am guessing you're working with her. My initial comment wasn't meant to dispute any outreach you've done so far, it was in response to other commenters who seem to think that the reason people don't show up is because they don't want to participate, not because they don't know of the opportunity.

Also, if you are looking for more info on how to reach people, maybe check out PBNYC which worked with Community Voices Heard. They have a website, pbnyc.org. Here you can check out more info on their first year. http://pbnyc.org/content/pbnyc-year-1-report-now-online

Maria Hadden / October 19, 2012 12:59 PM

So glad to see people commenting about PB in the 46th ward! Outreach to communities that don't normally participate or may have barriers to participation (language, income, etc) is ever-present in this process. We need help from the community to make sure everyone is aware of this process. Please email me maria@participatorybudgeting.org with contact info or ideas for further outreach!

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