Members of the participatory budgeting leadership committee at a meeting Wednesday discussed strategies to improve outreach. But those present tabled decisions on a voting process until the next meeting as they were unable to form a quorum with nine members present.

Matt Easterday speaks during the participatory budget committee meeting. Credit: Manan Bhavnani

The participatory budget process – a democratic endeavor centered around people shaping how the city spends $3 million in ARPA funding – continues to face a familiar hurdle: outreach.

“We can never do enough outreach,” said Matt Easterday, the city’s technical assistant in the process. Easterday, a professor at Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy, said it is a challenge to reach people in a city of nearly 77,000 people.

However, “making sure everyone who wants to participate can” is important, he said. While the project is largely volunteer-driven, the leadership committee members at the meeting brainstormed ideas to bring more people into the fold.

Kathy Hayes (left) a member of the participatory budget leadership committee, speaks during the meeting Wednesday. Credit: Manan Bhavnani

However, some members were skeptical about what outreach efforts look like and whether communication can be streamlined.

“I have a concern about consistency in messaging,” said Kathy Hayes, a member of the leadership committee. Hayes, a retired case manager, social worker and analyst, has filed for a city council seat in the Ninth Ward.

At the meeting Wednesday, Easterday presented brief and extended versions of a canvassing contact email with an emphasis on cultivating interpersonal connections. Easterday said these networks are often the most successful in bringing people on board to community events and initiatives.

Members of the participatory budget Leadership Committee. Credit: Manan Bhavnani

Despite her concerns, Hayes remained optimistic about the impact of the participatory budgeting process. “We want people to understand they can be part of a solution,” in increasing their quality of life, she said.

The participatory budget is currently collecting ideas with a final deadline for that phase set for Feb. 1. Following the completion of idea collection, budget delegates will present between 12 and 14 proposals for a community vote in September 2023 before they head to City Council.

Manan Bhavnani

Prior to joining the RoundTable, Manan Bhavnani covered business and technology for the International Business Times, with a focus on mergers, earnings and governance. He is a double Medill graduate, with...

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  1. This is such a ridiculous project. The city, which is supposedly is under a city manager form of government, is outsourcing the expenditure of discretionary budget funds to a body of people who are neither elected nor representative of the community.

    The only people who can show up at these “participatory” budgeting events are those who have enough leisure time to expend on the process. It excludes low wage workers and people with significant family and work obligations.

    Furthermore, they are expending $500,000 on consultants and “overhead costs” to pay for this sham process. Easterday’s group from Northwestern is getting somewhere in the neighborhood of $100k for this process.

    Just a couple of weeks ago, the city retained an out-of-town political consultancy who worked on 5th Ward Alderman Bobby Burns’ campaign $24,999 to provide public relations support for this.

    Burns just happens to be on the Participatory Budgeting Committee. If you read the memo I linked to above you will see that the city put the contract at $24999 so they wouldn’t have to have a public Request For Proposal process.

    Under a city manager form of government, the City Manager is supposed to come up with a budget based on his experienced understanding of what needs the city is facing. We have scores of city workers with extensive professional and technical training whose expertise is apparently being ignored.

    In addition we are essentially wasting a 14% premium by hiring a bunch of consultants to manage the “overhead costs” of the process.

    That has a tangible effect. It means $500,000 that is not being spent on mental health support, recreation programs, park upgrades.

    Rather the money is going into the pockets of Northwestern and political consultants with connections to the city council.