P B MASSACRE, AND GETTING PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING BACK ON TRACK

pb_massacre

By Anne Carr

9/4/14

The wheels of progress have slowly churned for Participatory Budgeting (PB), but in recent City moves, the PB train has jumped the track. Gird yourself for the City Council of September 9 to see if the PB Steering Committee (PBSC), the City Council and community have the will to pull PB back on course. If you are a friend of PB, please write and/or attend Council to show your support!

 

Here’s what happens on Sept 9 City Council. There should be two agenda items related to PB:

  1. An “information-only” report by City staff that explains their vetting of community proposals for PB.
  2. A request by the PB Steering Committee to a) review the 42 proposals themselves, and b) delay the original PB timeline to do so.

 

What’s at stake? ThePB Massacre

To understand what’s happening with PB, first we back up. On July 18, after four months of interaction with City staff, Budget Delegates submitted 42 proposals for the ballot. City staff reviewed these proposals, and notified the teams on Aug 15 that:

 

  • 7 proposals were approved for the ballot without revisions;
  • 20 proposals were sent back for minor to major revisions, with 4 cases of substantial if not radical revisions;
  • 15 proposals were declared ineligible.

 

In addition to the high number of rejections and revisions, equally concerning is an apparent inconsistency of reviews. For 8 criteria, and at least 29 instances of vetting judgments, review criteria were applied inconsistently.

 

With only one-sixth of the proposals initially accepted for ballot, and more than one-third rejected, some call Aug 15 the PB train wreck, aka, the PB Massacre. Was the City trying to crush the community, or did that happen without them noticing or caring? Were they looking for ways to eliminate proposals, or are they trying to uphold the program’s goal of public empowerment? Some say that the City overcompensated in trying to tighten up PB from Cycle 1.

 

Even if some of the 20 proposals in revision make it onto the PB Ballot, there’s the problem of a half-year process, only to then tell 15 teams that their proposals aren’t eligible for dubious & inconsistent reasons. Unlike other City processes, the City is not allowing an Appeal, or the equal opportunity to revise bounced proposals.

 

City management says they have good reasons for their inconsistencies; that they will explain them in an information-only Council item on Sept 9. Many community leaders say they want more than an explanation – that we need action and correction of this year’s mistakes this year, instead of waiting to fix the PB Rulebook for Cycle 3.

 

PB Steering Committee Wants to Steer: Review Projects & Delay Vote

In addition to shocking Budget Delegates, the City’s vetting also shocked the PB Steering Committee. After being stunned by the news, the PBSC held a special meeting last week (8/28), and voted to insist on a review of proposals by their Committee, noting that according to the PB Rulebook, this step had been skipped in the process.

 

In choosing this option, the PBSC also recommends delaying the PB vote, so that all eligible proposals can make it on the ballot. Most importantly, a Review by the PBSC could help the process stay fair and transparent to the community. In the end, the PBSC decided that the best way to serve the public goals of PB was to ensure an open community process, even if the timeline was delayed.

 

What happens on Sept 9 City Council? Timeline or Community Fairness?

Right now there is a potential collision on the City Council Sept. 9 agenda, and a hot mess that gets into Parliamentary politics. Before you get lost, understand that there’s a two-step process for Council actions: first, a vote to get something on a future agenda; second, the actual vote on the item. This process protected us from the Strong Mayor scheme, but it collides with the original timeline for the PB Vote. In the original schedule, the PB ballot is supposed to be finished Sept 10.

 

For Council on Sept 9, after the Mayor’s pre-emptive Parliamentary moves on 8/26, the agenda will include an information-only report by the City explaining their vetting of 42 community proposals for PB. The Mayor was careful to stifle the Council’s ability to take action on Sept 9;

despite Council member McConnell’s efforts, progressive Council members did not stand up to the Mayor’s pre-emptive constraints.

 

Thus, Council will get a nice report on Sept 9 in which the City explains their vetting decisions. If Council disagrees with the City’s vetting, they can’t take action then – instead, they have to vote to take action at another Council meeting. In the normal course of a Council review, they would have the authority to take actions when they hear a matter.

 

After the PB Steering Committee’s vote 8/28, community leaders are pushing for an alternative PB outcome: a vote to allow the PB Steering Committee to conduct its own review of proposals, and delay the PB vote to allow that to happen.

 

With the City’s two-step process for Council agenda items, the Council needs to first “agendize” the PBSC action for the next Council meeting. Second, the Council would then actually vote on the PBSC initiative.

 

Questionable City Decisions – with no Appeal?

Unlike most other City processes, the City has taken the stance that no Appeals should be allowed for their PB decisions. There are 8 citizen committees that hear appeals on other city decisions, yet somehow, for the program most oriented towards citizens, the City is saying it’ll work on an appeals process for Cycle 3, and leave mistakes uncorrected in Cycle 2. It should be noted that the City Manager has the discretion to undertake many steps in PB that are not in the Rulebook (and already has), so the absence of a specified Appeal Process does not prevent him from having one.

 

While City Attorney Claudia Quintana noted that the City is notrequired to offer an Appeals Process, neither is it prohibited, making the City’s denial of an Appeal all the more troubling. The essence of PB is for the public to participate and decide, so denying an Appeal of questionable City decisions violates the spirit and purpose of the program.

 

Keeping PB on Track

In insisting on a review of the 42 proposals, the PB Steering Committee was making the hard choice to keep faith with the community, rather than let the City or an arbitrary timeline dictate results. Going back to the PB Rulebook, the essence of Participatory Budgeting is to let “community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget.”

 

The City’s vetting of community proposals may have pulled away from the purpose and goals of Participatory Budgeting – but hopefully the PB Steering Committee and the community can get the program back on track. Come to the next City Council, September 9, and step up for Participatory Budgeting. The Council needs to know that the community wants PB, and that the community wants a fair and transparent process.

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'P B MASSACRE, AND GETTING PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING BACK ON TRACK' have 18 comments

  1. September 4, 2014 @ 7:03 am Doug

    My interactions with PB Staff over the last year have not been supportive or transparent. But i am not going to bring up that portion of my experiences, not yet anyway. I am going to mention what this article doesn’t, something that has always concerned me but i never would publicly acknowledge, until now that is. If the PB Process is on the table for discussion, than this is a matter that also needs to be addressed. The Delegate process. The term “If you want your project to get pushed through, become a Budget delegate” has always been put out there, its widely known, its how PB works. Being able to choose the Delegate Committee you want to serve on, allows anyone and many do, to “Delegate” their own project.

    For example, Lets say, i want to see a Bowling Alley built, lets say this would be a Parks and Rec project, so, if i wanted to help delegate my project, i simply choose to get on the Parks and Rec Delegate Committee, that way i have greater influence of this project getting vetted.

    The community should be asking, is the public interest at large being vetted or are the Delegates interest being vetted? The simple fact that this process allows you to delegate your own projects is a “conflict of interest”. When Delegates are members of organizations that are affiliated with projects, when does that project become a “special interest” project?

    Delegates should not be allowed to choose the subcommittees they want to work on, simple as that. You cannot get PB “on track” without addressing the Delegate process. Between Public Works projects serving the City and Delegates molding and pushing through their own special interest projects, when and how is the Public Interest at large being vetted? Oh, that’s right, after Staff and Delegates decide what we get to vote on, that’s when we get to be involved, we get what they decide we should be able to vote on.

    I brought this matter up at a PB Steering Committee meeting some 4 or 5 months ago, no doubt, i will be bringing it up again. When i spoke at the recent PB Emergency meeting, i spoke about process and transparency, my concern about the unfairness of it. I did not mention my concerns about this delegate issue i am speaking at this moment, low and behold, what was the comment i got from a Steering Committee member, a testie comment at that, oh yeah, she replied, “than become a Budget Delegate” I strongly considered becoming a Delegate as everyone seems to promote, but i find something too unethical about placing your own project above the needs and interests of others, even the appearance of that is unethical. I believe all projects deserve a fair shake, our current process does not protect the “public interest”, it blindly allows the affiliation of special interests. This must be addressed if PB finds its way back to Vallejo in 2015/16

    You can paint the PB picture however you want the public to see it, but the canvass is the foundation of the process, you can cover the canvass with all the paint you want, but the canvass is still there.

    If the Delegate committee creation process is not addressed as well, PB will never be “on track”

    Reply

    • September 4, 2014 @ 3:24 pm Anne

      I had similar concerns about PB when I first became active, but PB has guidelines in place to make sure that participants are not promoting projects from which they would get personal benefit or gain.

      That said, a couple reactions to your post:
      1) My concerns are about current Cycle 2 PB proposals, and a very uneven and seemingly biased vetting process. This is not to dismiss changes we might make for Cycle 3 (if there is one), but right now, let’s get through Cycle 2.
      2) I don’t know if you can ever order a volunteer to donate hours and efforts to something they don’t care about. Paid staff, yes — but by their nature, volunteers will be motivated by their interests. Case in point: I’ve been a Budget Delegate now for 2 years running. I’m interested in many types of community improvement, but as a volunteer, if I had shown up to a general assembly, and then was told to be a Budget Delegate for say, Public Works — that would be an assignment of brief engagement. Sure, potholes are important, but I actually think the City should pay for them out of regular City budgets. I”m just not going to spend that many hours of my personal time promoting pothole repair.

      I do think that if there is a Cycle 3 PB, many improvements can be made. But with so many inconsistencies in Cycle 2, the city is crushing the credibility & vitality of PB, and demoralizing those who have been great fans.

      Reply

      • September 4, 2014 @ 4:51 pm wharf rat

        Great article Anne thanks for breaking things down and explaining them so well ….
        While certain processes and policies might be flawed the concept remains sound , I must agree with Doug on many points he mentioned … perhaps We could better apply our resources to facilitate a smoother PB process , one with un-questionable integrity …. Vallejo has a wealth of professionals in many areas , many might be interested in serving on a focus group yet might not have the time to attend the many meetings etc , this is not a problem in this digital age ”volunteers can work from home’ , for instance the many ‘brick and mortar’ proposals could be reviewed/vetted by a technical focus group comprised of people competent in the respective field … This approach would also reduce staff costs — freeing up more funds for projects as well as serve as a check and balance —quality control for our public funds expenditures …. Vallejo has the stuff do pull off a world class PB program yet this will never happen with staff’s iron grip on the entire process I think in order for PB to really fly high staff involvement should be at a bare minium , in fact staff should have to vet their proposals to the community before they are even considered , the recent spate of public works projects come to mind , with their un-affordable administration / delivery costs … PB needs some solid rules re these costs , to ensure we actually receive value for OUR money , like a ten percent cap on administrative costs across the board …. Governments and Berucrassies spend tax money ‘this is what they do’ they see PB as a fundamental threat to their industry and will never support PB all the more reason to tighten up the process while streamlining some aspects
        to improve value — delivery — outcome — and fairness .. I have always thought micro grants should be a part of PB staff is opposed to this , so lets get staff out of the process , how hard would it be to vet projects under a thousand dollars , staff only wants large projects that justify big administrative budgets and might be double dipping by using PB funds for projects that were funded by other sources ….. I am afraid unless we privatize PB staff will continue to try to dismantle it.

        Reply

  2. September 4, 2014 @ 6:20 pm Publicus

    I just got a perky email from the City saying they got some prestigious award for PB. Does this mean we have to give the award back since the City really doesn’t want PB and is fighting it tooth and nail?

    Reply

  3. September 4, 2014 @ 7:01 pm Doug

    Thank you Anne for stepping out and highlighting the track switching of PB. I don’t wish to detract from your article any further, i just forgot to say thank you for being a consistent watch dog of city staff and keeping the public informed!

    Reply

    • September 4, 2014 @ 7:40 pm wharf rat

      DITTO yes Anne is a community asset of galactic proportions as well is Doug , they both bring up very intelligent points , and I know they both want what is best for our community … If People like them ran the PB process it would be a resounding success , staff’s worst nightmare ….. The fact that all the PB info was never put on the web , pretty much say’s it all … Without transparency it will continue to be controversial , yet far more controversial is the actions / machinations of staff groups that have been rouge , throughout the revolving city manager era , where serving their CUSTOMERS became a low priority …. PB is not just a mere program , rather it a major evolution of local Government , either get on board or jump off the train , but don’t ever think about derailing it ……..

      Reply

  4. September 4, 2014 @ 8:18 pm decentamerican

    Great restrained summary by Anne!

    City Manager, City Attorney & perhaps even the Mayor have clearly violated the will of the people — the will of PB.
    As a delegate volunteer, it is extremely difficult to see the city staff get away with the PB ‘massacre’ while they hold a different standard to the people who submitted the proposals. Some of the reasons disclosed are bordering on illegal, for both inconsistency and conveniently skipping the ‘rule book’ when it comes to failing to do their job as a City w.r.t. PB

    Let us see who wears what mask, come September 27th when the 3rd NationalPB Conference comes to Vallejo!!

    If PB steering comittee has any sense of ethics, community engagement commitment spirit and determination to claim back their role as ‘the governing body’ appointed by the City = they will take control back at all costs and make things right !

    It is not all that “transparent” folks — it’s a term the City boasts for publicity and photo ops. Their soul and heart has left PB when some of our council members said ‘how they love PB’ but continue to vote with the Mayor to sabotage PB. ONLY YOU/WE ALL HAVE THE ABILITY TO CHANGE THAT FOR GOOD — CALL, WRITE, EmAIL YOUR COUNCIL & WRITE TO ALL MEDIA OUTLETS.

    Reply

    • September 4, 2014 @ 10:51 pm Salty Dog

      Back in the day, when someone suggested that the earth revolves around the sun, there was no shortage of heresy charges. When someone suggested that life evolved over millions of years rather than beginning in 6004 BC, that person was pilloried by his colleagues. To promote a change of paradigm is an invitation to a lynching by those who are not comfortable with change. Yet, every civilized advancement has required brave souls to step forward. Why they did so speaks to an incredible moral courage.

      At a more modest but no less valid local level, PB is a classic example of the pitfalls of paradigm change. You can’t do that. That is Council’s job. You are taking authority from staff. Ordinary citizens can’t make decisions. And so on….because this has not been done before. The push back on PB is predictable….in fact perfectly normal social behavior. Given the obvious benefits , it will take some stickwithitness.

      Ditto to any school board reform. imo.

      Reply

  5. September 5, 2014 @ 4:47 pm Ravi Shankar

    Dear Mayor, Manager, Attorney and the Vallejo City Council,

    Now that the City Received this Prestigious Award for PB — i.e., Putnam Award we are all very grateful to for Council Member and PB Pioneer for Vallejo, Marti Brown and the hundreds of Volunteers for all their work since day#1. Thank you Joey Lake, Lynda Daniels & John de la Torre.

    It reinforces the many great concepts that America is built on in the past, and even as we face numerous internal and external threats, the citizen engagement and PARTICIPATION in the vibrant present 2014 !

    Therefore, for this alone, (and many other reasons) the City has an even more obligation to MAKE THINGS RIGHT with the PB ‘massacre’ in cycle-2 and HONOR the Will of the People and the PB-SteeringCommittee on all the current controversy. Show then you care and share this Award with them in Public.

    Let there not be double standards or hypocrisy; let there be no inconsistencies; LET THERE BE JUSTICE, FAIRNESS & TRANSPARENCY inspired by this Putnum Award. Let there be peace and harmony in Vallejo….. Please do not let us down; make all Vallejoans PROUD !!

    Thank YOU …. “our representatives in government” …

    Reply

  6. September 7, 2014 @ 10:46 am Paying Attention

    I believe that more transparency and communication is needed and there is enough blame to go around on what went wrong. My question is why was there not more concern shown by the community when the rule book was being drafted/revised? After reading the rule book it was clear from the beginning that there was no appeal process. Yet the only time there was outcry was when some parties discovered that their projects were denied. This is the same for the project review that was outlined in the rule book. Why did the
    process continue without anyone noticing that the review was omitted? Again, the outcry only happened after projects were denied. I tend to agree with Doug. People are so involved in getting their own projects approved that no one is paying attention to the process. Which gives the appearance of special interest groups running PB. There is much work needed for the next round of PB.

    Reply

    • September 7, 2014 @ 12:22 pm Anne

      The Rulebook is a general framework, under which the City Manager & his designates have a lot of leeway and discretion.

      Last year the process worked much differently — there somehow was more interaction with and guidance from the PB staff along the way than this year. Last year there were fewer projects abruptly killed at the end of the development and vetting stages.

      The absence of an Appeals Process in the Rulebook does not mean that there can’t be one. There are many steps not enumerated in the Rulebook that the City has nonetheless undertaken in order to move PB forward.

      PB Vallejo is a new program — but it can still borrow best practices from other City programs and public programs in general. And, the expectation of fair and transparent review criteria evenly applied is not new or novel. You simply cannot have a public program where standards are lax for some and stringent for others, especially if the loosely-judged proposals are City proposals, and the stringently-reviewed proposals are community efforts. That’s just blatantly unfair and wrong; there needs to be a step to needs to make things right.

      Reply

      • September 7, 2014 @ 12:23 pm Anne

        edit: That’s just blatantly unfair and wrong; there needs to be a step to make things right.

        Reply

    • September 7, 2014 @ 4:20 pm decentamerican

      PayingAttention:

      You are right about that PA … but did you say the same thing about the City botching up the process because all of them were paid very good salaries and they did miss many things, until the citizens brought things to their attention !

      what side are you are on … the people or the control authorities in the city ? You better be supporting the people for their fair and just majority choices.

      on the lighter side, everyone makes a mistake now and then. The outcry is to provide a path to fixing things that were not done right ! PLEASE PAY ATTENTION TO THAT !!! Thanks.

      Reply

  7. September 10, 2014 @ 11:10 pm wharf rat

    Well said , but keep in mind Anne has lived and breathed this from inception , keeping that in mind You brought up some very salient points …. Just to boil it down a bit , perhaps the Staff influence is the , real impediment … No one else receives Administrative compensation , with no pro—forma requirements , this in it’s self is blatant favouritism , or in fact quasi corruption , if the ethos of PB HOLDS any weight ……….. 30 to 40 percent Management / delivery is just pure corruption and in fact has caused many Citizens to look closely at City business …. Perhaps Staff has shot themselves in the foot , by disclosing this figure ……….. Some Cities have caps
    such as ten to fifteen percent on these costs , via Charter , food for thought ,, something to consider moving forward , HOPE THE CHARTER REVIEW COMMITIE CONSIDERS THIS …… In a nutshell PB has been highjacked by staff , and for shame a National congregation is visiting Vallejo — PB delegates from the whole world — will converge in Vallejo , just hope there is not a protest .

    Reply

  8. September 13, 2014 @ 7:32 pm Publicus

    This is simple… Vote for NOTHING that is put forth by the City of Vallejo or that benefits the City of Vallejo, the VUSD or any Christian group. They may look fabulous but if the City staff keeps stealing from the citizens, then we have no hope of changing what has become a clear and dangerous Vampire government just like Bell, Furguson or many other low income communities.

    Reply

    • September 13, 2014 @ 8:43 pm wharf rat

      As i type, the ghetto bird is aloft , over our city , this happens , often three times a day ….. A small group of Vallejo has turned our fair City into a CONCENTRATION CAMP ….. A small group , many of which are Paroles , destined to a known interface with law enforcement . in fact , the population of the revolving door crowd , that continue to screw up this City …. This revolving door Cabal needs to have some long term , Sh–t imposed on them , and or a ticket out of town , such that so many other municipalities do …
      Vallejo has been dumped on , as has Hawaii ,, they have had Homeless and others , foisted off on them for years , by numerous Municipalities …. It is far cheaper to export Homeless People , than to deal with them ….. ONE must wonder just how many homeless People , originated from Vallejo ………. Just know many are immigrants / transplants from wealthier communities .. in fact We have had an influx of Homeless immigrants , for years … Paroles and People needing social services , have routinely been imported into Vallejo for DECADES ………… The reality and facts are that , the cost to Society to , actually support a Homeless individual can well exceed in excess of ,,,,,,,,,,,, one hundred and fifty thousand dollars per year ,,, when Emergency medical and all associated costs are tallied ….. While this feeds , certain Employee groups , the over all , impact is a TOTAL DISASTER for the tax payers …… We are collectively spending , over one hundred thousand dollars per year , on Homeless individuals , while many of the Bay area Communities are spending even more , all while these People are living/ sleeping — some—where …. Vallejo has BOURN the the brunt , and has , had , A major Importation of chronic —Criminal Homeless , and , actual economic – refugees ,,, We have Accepted the masses , the downtrodden , and the Immigrants ,, the Ill ,, what more can this City do ….. Vallejo has always , stood up to the plate , and hit a LONG BALL … We remain committed ……………..

      Reply

  9. November 6, 2014 @ 5:06 am The City That Gave Its Residents $3 Million | SerendiWitty

    […] idea that participatory budgeting could go away has enraged some Vallejo community members. A letter on a local website from September of this year that implores citizens to stop “The PB […]

    Reply

  10. November 8, 2014 @ 10:02 pm Leonard

    But Vallejo has struggled for years. Crippled by high pension costs and public-employee salaries, it filed for bankruptcy in 2008. I n the borough I live in public employee salaries and pensions are crippling it. It is the same old story three quarters of the budget or more goes there and it is a endless cycle. The borough employees here are living way beyond the means of the citizens I mean way beyond. It is disgusting to see so much greed among so few. There is no compromise for the good of the citizens it’s me me me more more more. The police just got a raise that their salary makes the citizens who they are supposed to serves and protect look poor. So it would never work here the borough employees would never allow it because it would dip into their expected share of the money

    Reply


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