Editor’s note: The RoundTable has posted a participatory budgeting voting guide, with information on how the balloting is being conducted, and a ballot guide, with details about each of the 20 proposals.

The first Participatory Budgeting Expo was abuzz with attendees and energy on Sunday at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center. A steady flow of Evanston residents and other eligible voters came to hear directly from budget delegates about 20 detailed proposals on the ballot.

Evanston’s first Participatory Budgeting Project Expo draws city residents and other eligible voters to the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center on Sunday. A second and final expo is set for 2-5 p.m. Sept. 23 at the Levy Senior Center. Credit: Heidi Randhava

Evanston resident Jessie MacDonald said she learned about the expo at a recent Seventh Ward meeting hosted by Council Member Eleanor Revelle. “One of the organizers who is here today gave a presentation,” said MacDonald, who added that an in-person event is a good way to gain insight into the various proposals.

“I thought I would come and find out more about the different projects that are asking for funding,” MacDonald said. “It was hard for me to tell by just reading about them onlin. … I’ve heard about it for the last month or so and thought I wanted to put my two cents in.”

Voting open to non-residents

Greeting MacDonald at the entrance to Fleetwood-Jourdain was Arleigh Truesdale, who said she has been “part of the Participatory Budgeting Leadership Committee for the last year-and-a-half or so.”

“We’re here supporting the process and answering questions for folks who are stopping by,” said Truesdale, a master’s student at Northwestern University who specializes in sustainability and climate communication. “I work and go to school in Evanston, but I live in Chicago.”

People 14 and older who live, work, go to school or have children who attend school in Evanston have until Sept. 30 to register and vote on the participatory budgeting proposals, which will be funded by $3 million of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) COVID-19 relief funds. Voters can select up to seven of the 20 proposals on the ballot.

The 20 proposals were developed from a collection of about 1,300 different ideas put forth at community events and assemblies from November 2022 to February 2023.

Friends Sherrill Johnson (left) and Monica Martin read over the printed ballot proposals at Sunday’s expo, but they plan to cast their votes online. Credit: Heidi Randhava

On Sunday, friends Monica Martin and Sherrill Johnson sat together at a table, carefully reviewing the projects that aim to address the needs of Evanston residents, make government policy more equitable and train future leaders.

“I wanted to make sure that I participate in the process of making sure that the funds are given to interested people who care wholeheartedly about the growth of the youth coming forward,” Martin said.

Johnson said, “I came to get more information as well, so I know which proposals I would like to support as I fill out the ballot … and that’s what this is for.”

Second expo set for Sept. 23

Budget delegates were on hand with project display boards for each of the 20 ballot proposals. In addition to the opportunity to connect with and learn from delegates and other volunteers, the expos offer in person registration and voting.

The second and final Participatory Budgeting Expo is set for 2-5 p.m. Sept. 23 at the Levy Senior Center, 300 Dodge Ave.

Both Martin and Johnson said they registered online and plan to vote online. However, each said it is “absolutely” important that voters could elect to register in person and drop off their ballot at various locations, including Participatory Budgeting Expos and the main Evanston Public Library or its Robert Crown Branch.

No ID is required, but all who wish to vote must register for the participatory budgeting election, even if they are registered voters. Those who register online will receive an online ballot within 48 hours.

Budget delegate Pat Bernard provides information about her Environment, Food and Sustainability Committee’s proposal at Sunday’s expo. Credit: Heidi Randhava

Although voters can get detailed information about the ballot proposals at www.pbevanston.org, the expo offered a unique opportunity to hear directly from participatory budgeting delegates, leadership committee members, staff and attendees.

Here is more of what some of those present told the RoundTable:

Participatory Budgeting Field Manager Ndona Muboyayi said, “I think the participatory budgeting initiative has had the most diverse turnout in the history of the City of Evanston as far as the participants, the outreach and people who have created proposals, including those who have come to the event today from very diverse backgrounds.”

As field manager, Muboyayi said she assists all the delegates, “to make sure that they have ample support and that all community members who come in are able to get around to every table to pose questions to the budget delegates.”

Budget delegates Shelley McFarlane (from left), Thony Daye, Sarry Chavannes, Fabrice Chavannes, Alexa Stone, Renne Stone and Aleah Stone gather for a photo as the three-hour expo wraps up on Sunday, Sept. 10. Credit: Heidi Randhava

Leonard Lamkin wears multiple hats as a volunteer in the process. “I am a budget delegate serving on the Affordable Housing Committee and a member of the Participatory Budgeting Leadership Committee,” Lamkin said. He said he has been involved with the process for the past two years, since first volunteering at idea collection events with students and young adults at Evanston Township High School and Fleetwood-Jourdain.

“A number of us advocated for the high school students to be involved,” Lamkin said. “If you want the high school students of Evanston to be the future leaders of our city, you need to engage them now.” said Lamkin.

Lamkin said his role at the expo “is to educate people on the Affordable housing Committee’s two proposals. … That’s what all these other budget delegates are doing as well – educating people. We can’t advocate for our proposals here because people are voting, but we are educating them on the process.”

Melissa Raman Molitor attends Sunday’s expo to explain a proposal for an Asian American Art & Culture Center, one of 20 projects on the participatory budgeting ballot. Credit: Heidi Randhava

Melissa Raman Molitor is another Evanston resident who volunteers in two roles, as a member of the Steering Committee and as a budget delegate, to ensure that the Participatory Budgeting process empowers community members.

Leadership Committee member Jeffrey Korman said he, too, has functioned “depending on what is needed, as a budget delegate and a facilitator of the idea collection.” Korman said that his major hat is the Leadership Committee. “I want to know the process has been good, which it has been. We were targeting three, and we ended up with 20 idea collection events around the community,” he said.

Resident Christopher Fedak (left) said that to him, the participation of teenagers is the most interesting aspect of participatory budgeting. Credit: Heidi Randhava

Expo attendee Christopher Fedak said that what stood out to him was that young people were volunteering their time and talents as delegates. “I think the most interesting thing about participatory budgeting is that 14-year-olds can vote on it,” he said.

“If I’m going to vote, maybe I should vote on something that is proposed by somebody who is a little bit younger. It’s an exciting thing, and something I would have been really interested in doing when I was 14, 15, or 16,” Fedak said. “There’s a bunch of things here I’m interested in voting for, but I think I should vote for something that is more youth-oriented because of that.”

Heidi Randhava is an award winning reporter who has a deep commitment to community engagement and service. She has written for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.

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