Participatory Budgeting Now in 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 Screening of PBS Documentary on Participatory Budgeting

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.

PB Petition Off the Ballot

The petition for an advisory referendum to bring participatory budgeting to the 50th Ward did not get the required number of signatures to appear on November’s ballot. The Chicago Board of Elections officially ruled the petition off the ballot yesterday.

We will therefore launch a new petition drive in Spring 2017 to ensure that we make the ballot for the 2019 municipal elections.

The alderman’s claims of neutrality on this issue proved false. A ward resident who was clearly acting as aldermanic surrogate challenged the petition; he was represented by the same lawyer who represented the  objectors to Silverstein’s opponents’ signatures in last year’s aldermanic elections. She doesn’t  fool anybody with these shenanigans, but at least it will cost her some money.

We obtained 466 signatures, about 52% of the total we needed (893). The Electoral Board itself would have disqualified the petition for that reason. But the alderman wanted to be sure the petition would die, so two objections were raised: (1) We did not obtain enough signatures; and (2) “in the alternative,” the petition’s question could not be understood because it was ungrammatical and too long. The “alternative” objection–in case the Board was inclined to break its own rules and allow us on the ballot–was just insurance and easily dismissed. But this is what some politicians pay lawyers to do to keep the citizenry from having an ongoing voice in government.

So much that is positive emerged from this petition drive that I hardly know where to begin the good news:

  • A committed core of volunteers coalesced around this issue and is ready to resume work on next year’s campaign
  • The CBOE, by accepting Silverstein’s lawyer’s argument, has made our task easier–it’s clear now that we need 8% of voters in the ward, not in each precinct
  • In just four short weeks, volunteer petition circulators did a tremendous job, pulling in almost 125 signatures per week–working part-time during a hot and humid Chicago summer for a cause in which they believe
  • We now know firsthand how the process works–as well as how it can be stopped
  • PB is an issue that won’t go away, and neither will the activist citizens who are working on this and many other issues throughout the 50th Ward
  • If the alderman continues to refuse to introduce PB to the ward, it will be a major campaign issue in the 2019 aldermanic race

The PB Steering Committee thanks everyone who supported the drive to bring participatory budgeting to our ward.  Special appreciation goes to our organizers and petition circulators. And to those who signed–fully understanding the issue and the question as stated on the petition–thank you!

The alderman apparently thinks her constituents are too stupid to understand what they’re doing in asking for a say in spending the menu money. Rumors were spread in the immigrant community, for example, that the petition was an attack on the alderman. If you’ve lived under a repressive government, you don’t want to do anything to call attention to yourself, so this kind of whispering campaign works–once. Among another group of residents, a refusal to sign was often accompanied by the statement that we shouldn’t take “her” money away, but pressure her to spend it differently. Her money?

Residents of the 50th Ward are mobilizing around a host of issues that they understand and care about. PB is just one of them.

Silverstein can get on board, or be left behind. But she can’t stop the train.

Sign the Petition(s) at National Night Out!

Tonight is National Night Out, an event designed to bring neighbors and police officers together to build community, fight crime, and have some fun. There will be events for the kids, prizes, food, and a chance to meet and get to know your neighbors..

Petitions in support of participatory budgeting will be available at three of the 50th Ward’s four events: at Green Briar, Indian Boundary, and Warren Parks. Some petition circulators will also have petitions in support of LEARN, the citizen initiative to build a new library in West Ridge.

Support your community and your police officers, sign the petitions, and enjoy a good night out with friends and family!


PB, the New Library, & More….

This week’s edition of dna info West Ridge gives prominence to the petition drive to bring participatory budgeting (PB) to the 50th Ward. Under the banner headline “Residents Want Say on 50th Ward Budget,” Linze Rice details our story. If you missed the print edition, you can read the story here.

PB is democracy in action, not an attack on the alderman, not an attempt to usurp her statutory authority, not a comment on her leadership. It is a positive action designed to involve residents in ward decision-making. It has been successful in eight other wards, where citizens chose a variety of projects to fund, from community gardens to street lighting to improved access to public buildings for the disabled. Yes, we need to have the potholes filled, and, as part of the PB process, residents can choose to continue to spend all or part of the Ward’s menu money doing just that.

But the community may choose other options. For example, to date there has been no funding available for a feasibility study for the new library that West Ridge so desperately needs. But the amount is so small in relation to the menu money–about $30,000–that it could easily be appropriated through the PB process–and we’d be one step closer to making that new library a reality!

Have you signed the petition yet? If not, there are still several ways to do so.

Contact us at We are working throughout the neighborhood, and chances are we have a petition circulator near you or a volunteer who can stop by a your convenience.

You can attend National Night Out on Tuesday, August 2. Petition circulators will attend the events at Green Briar and Warren Parks.

You can come to the Northtown Library this week. On Monday and Wednesday, we’ll be inside from 10 a.m. until Noon. On Tuesday and Thursday, we’ll be inside from Non until 2 p.m. We’ll be stationed at Computer #2 all four days (that’s the large-screen computer facing the Circulation Desk). On Saturday, August 6, we will be in the library’s meeting room between 9 a.m. and Noon. Sunday, August 7, is the last day to sign; please contact us via email, to sign the petition then.

The signed and notarized petitions are due at the Chicago Board of Elections on Monday, August 8. After that, petition signatures can be challenged by PB opponents, and then we’ll have an opportunity to respond to those challenges.

We’ll keep you posted on what happens.



Two More Weeks!

We have two more weeks to achieve our goal!

Volunteers have been working hard to secure enough signatures to add our referendum to November’s ballot. These last two weeks are critical – remember, we need signatures from 8% of the registered voters in each precinct to qualify for the ballot.  All signed and notarized petitions are due at the Chicago Board of Elections on August 8.

Have we missed you? Are you ready to sign? Are you able to work a few hours to help with the final push? Can you knock on a few doors in your building or on your block? Would you be able to pick up a few signatures at worship services this weekend? Let us know by e-mailing We can get one or more petitions to you fast.

Petition circulators will be at the Northtown Library from 9-11 a.m. this Saturday, July 23, and at the Jewel on Howard this Sunday from 1-5 p.m. as well as in various precincts, so le us know if you’ll be home and ready to add your name to the petition.

Help make participatory budgeting a reality in the 50th Ward!

And thanks.

How Was Menu Money Spent Citywide From 2012-2014?

Participatory budgeting (PB) gives residents a voice in how their ward’s menu money is spent.  The attached reports detail menu money spending in all fifty wards for 2012, 2013, and 2014. As you’ll see, the money can be spent solely on infrastructure improvements, such as lighting, trash cans, speed bumps, alley aprons, park improvements, and street resurfacing.

It’s interesting to compare the spending ward by ward, and to see the difference that citizen participation makes in those wards, like the 49th, where the process is resident-driven.

More information about PB and how it has worked since 2012 can be found here.

2012 MM

2013 MM

2014 MM

Sign the PB Petition at Tonight’s Public Safety Meeting

Tonight the alderman is sponsoring a public safety meeting so the West Ridge community can meet Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson and the commanders of the two police districts that protect West Ridge residents, Roberto Nieves of the 24th and Elias Voulgaris of the 17th.

Petition circulators will be available outside the Horwich Center so you can sign the petition in support of participatory budgeting if you haven’t already done so. You will need to know which precinct you live in, and that info’s available on your voter’s card. We’ll be on the sidewalk rather than on the Horwich property so as not to be in the way as people enter the building.

The meeting is at the Horwich JCC, 3003 West Touhy, at 7 p.m. tonight.

Voting in Participatory Budgeting

Who can sign the petition to add participatory budgeting (PB) to the November ballot?
Only registered voters in the 50th Ward can sign the petition.

Who can be on the leadership team?
Any ward resident or local business owner can volunteer for the leadership team and make a case for his/her inclusion to the project oversight team. There is no set formula for representation (i.e., members are not selected by racial, ethnic, or religious group or by sex). What will matter is the volunteer’s willingness to work long hours without compensation to learn about and subsequently guide the process through its birthing phase.  The leadership team simply won’t work unless it is as inclusive as possible so everyone can expect a fair and equitable process for choosing leadership team members..

Who can take part in choosing projects, developing proposals, and voting?
All 50th Ward residents over the age of 14, parents with children who attend 50th Ward schools, and 50th Ward business owners can help select the projects eligible for menu money spending. Voters formerly had to be 18 or older, but this has been changed to help adolescents develop a sense of civic responsibility.

Non-citizens, including undocumented immigrants, can also vote to choose and fund projects. This is a contentious issue. It is true that menu money come from taxpayers, and those residents in the country illegally do not pay income taxes. However, they do pay other taxes (sales tax, for example). It cannot be denied that ALL residents have an interest in neighborhood improvement.

PB therefore does not distinguish between citizens and noncitizens. What matters is one’s residency and commitment to the community of West Ridge.

I don’t like all these kids and foreigners having a say in what happens to my tax dollars.
Many people would agree with you. Some think the kids are too young to be involved, while others believe that giving the undocumented such access is a good reason not to support PB. But consider this:

Young people have responded strongly to the idea of bringing PB to the ward. Recent grammar school graduates, high schoolers, and other young people are eager to play a role in making the 50th Ward stronger and improving the neighborhood in general. Many are disappointed that they cannot sign the petition. Their enthusiasm for participatory democracy reflects the highest American ideals of citizenship.

According to U.S. Census data, 10% to 12% of all West Ridge residents are in the United States without authorization–approximately 7,200 to 8,600 residents, based on the current West Ridge population estimate of 72,000 residents. Many more residents have green card status–they are permanent residents but not U.S. citizens. Permanent residents pay income taxes. Chicago is a recognized Sanctuary City, which means that citizenship is not a requirement for access to or participation in municipal governance.

PB grants access to all members of the community without regard to race, religion, ethnicity, sex, or citizenship status. PB recognizes instead the common welfare–the improvement of ward infrastructure–to which all residents contribute.

My project lost–I feel like my vote didn’t count. Now what?
Only a few projects will be funded. Some of those that won the most support from the voters may not move forward because of cost increases, for example, or because they have been proposed by a City department and are on its project schedule. Your project may receive the go-ahead after all. Or you and your supporters can present it again in the next PB process. Don’t give up.



How Project Choice Works in Participatory Budgeting

Who guides the participatory budgeting (PB) process in the ward?
Residents and business owners all have an equal opportunity to volunteer for the ward’s leadership team, which guides the process under the direction of the UIC Great Cities PB initiative.

Who chooses the projects to be funded by menu money under the PB process? How is this done?
Choosing the projects to be funded is an entirely voluntary process. Interested residents and business owners (except for members of the leadership team) meet in groups of their own choosing; this may mean a block club, a group of business owners in a given area, parents at a local school, a church or social club. No group is barred from meeting to advance a project.

During these brainstorming sessions, members of the group work together to build agreement, ranking their projects from those with the most support within the group to those with the least. The group then decides which project to support, develops a proposal for it, including an estimate of the funding required for it, and submits the proposal for vote by the larger community.

Then what?
All proposals are reviewed by the leadership team. A ballot is created for community voting. The community votes for the proposals it wishes to support. After the voting, the projects are ranked from first to last in total number of votes received. The projects with the most votes are funded using the menu money.

It’s important to note that funding adjustments are sometimes required because projects prove more or less costly than anticipated. It’s also important to remember that some approved projects may conflict with plans already made and funded by the City or other governmental agencies. For example, voters may approve a project for curb repair, but the City’s Water Department may plan to tear up that area for water main work later during the year. A fair solution requires negotiation that includes the alderman, the leadership team, and the City.

The PB process then begins again, and citizen involvement in this budgetary operation continues.

Does PB hurt the alderman?
No. Implementing PB in a ward reflects an alderman’s commitment to constituents. It encourages civic participation and citizen interest in the political process. It’s important to note that the alderman is not excluded from participation. PB is simply another way for an alderman to work with residents and business owners for the good of the ward. It harms no one, and creates an atmosphere of mutual trust and support between the alderman and constituents.