Alderman gives residents choice
On April 10, residents in Moore’s ward were invited to vote on how their ward would spend its $1.3 million “capital fund,” which the alderman is free to use at his or her discretion. Nearly 2,000 of the 55,000 residents voted on how to allocate the funds, choosing sidewalk repairs and bike lanes as the top two projects.
Better Government Association Executive Director Andy Shaw commended Moore’s efforts to make the 49th Ward more transparent.
“We applaud any effort to include average citizens in decisions about how their hard-earned tax dollars are spent,” Shaw said.
Sidewalks and bike lanes were only two of the 14 projects voters chose to dedicate the money to. The 1,652 residents who voted picked their eight favorites of 36 available projects; among the other winners were installing artistic bike racks, solar powered garbage containers and convenience showers at Loyola Park Beach.
But 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack’s Chief of Staff Paul Sajovec cautioned that residents should not be too excited about the agreed upon proposals.
“Last year, even though we had a long list of stuff that needed to be done, we didn’t get over half of it because they ran out of time or money at [the Chicago Department of Transportation],” Sajovec said.
He also wasn’t sure that having constituents vote was the best way to make decisions about how money is spent.
“It’s an interesting concept,” Sajovec said. “As long as the voting is open to everyone and its fair, I think there’s some utility in that.”
But, he added, there was some danger that neighbors would end up trying to “out-vote each other” to have money spent on their section of the ward.
Moore’s Chief of Staff, Betsy Vandercook, said Moore and the rest of the office were thrilled by the voting process and the turnout.
“Getting almost 2,000 voters, it’s amazing,” Vandercook said. “It’s just absolutely amazing … It was a higher rate of early voting than they had in the primary.”
Moore’s Web site, which announced the voting, called the participatory budgeting “an innovative experiment in direct democracy and government transparency,” and Shaw concurred. He said the decision to allow residents to vote was a change from the typical way funds are allocated in Chicago.
“This is a commendable attempt at participatory democracy in a city that’s famous for back room deals,” Shaw said.
Every ward in the city receives the same amount of discretionary funds to spend. Sajovec said he and the alderman decide how to spend what he calls the “menu funding” based on their own observations, calls from constituents and input from the Chicago Department of Transportation. He said the 32nd Ward office had not yet finalized their list of projects.
“The lion’s share of the menu funding this year is going to be the street resurfacing, which is direly needed in our ward,” Sajovec said. Waguespack’s office will publicize the selection on its Web site and in a newsletter to residents.
Matthew Wendelin, a 49th Ward resident and recent Columbia graduate, said the voters made the right choice.
“They definitely need new sidewalks,” said Wendelin, who did not vote. “It’s good they let people decide; I just don’t believe in democracy.”
Sajovec said he would not make the connection to transparency that Shaw does.
“I don’t know that I would necessarily make a direct connection between having constituents vote and transparency,” Sajovec said. “But I think the concept of people being able to express their preferences in terms of what’s most important to them … is helpful. At the end of the day, you’re just trying to serve your constituents.”