No 5th Ward PB Election This Year, But Residents Still Have Input on Budget

A display board at a 5th Ward participatory budgeting expo last year. Photo courtesy of the 5th Ward

As we recently reported, 5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston experimented with participatory budgeting process in 2013 but won’t be holding a PB election this year. However, it turns out that Hairston will still allow constituents to have some input on how the ward’s $1.3 million in discretionary “menu” funding is spent. Last year, only about one in 500 ward residents  voted in the budgeting election.

In a January Hyde Park Herald article, one constituent who helped organize the process attributed the low turnout on the relatively remote poling place location. A rival candidate said dissatisfaction with Hairston’s leadership was to blame. Another possible factor in the low turnout that wasn’t mentioned in the article was Hairston’s decision to exclude several outside-the-box ideas for promoting biking and transit use from the ballot. Instead, she designated these proposals as “service requests” that should instead be funded by city departments, the CTA or the park district.

When I spoke with 5th Ward Chief of Staff Kim Webb yesterday, she said the main factor in the decision not to hold a budgeting election this year was complaints from residents that the PB process was too time-consuming. “People were happy about the transparency of the process, and they liked being involved in the decision-making process, but they thought there were too many meetings,” she said. Hairston is allowing residents to provide input on how $1 million of the menu money is allocated, a process she’s calling the “infrastructure improvement program.”

Four committees, representing the neighborhoods of Hyde Park, South Shore, Grand Crossing and Woodlawn, are each tasked with making recommendations on how $250,000 should be spent. Committee members will mostly be surveying the condition of streets, alleys, sidewalks and lighting in their communities, with a focus on fixing potholes in the wake of the harsh winter, Webb said. If residents feel there’s enough money left over after addressing infrastructure repairs, they can also recommend spending menu money on neighborhood enhancements like murals, community gardens and dog parks. Webb said it’s also possible that ideas that were excluded last year, like new bus stop benches and bike lanes, could be included in the committees’ recommendations.

The committees will turn in the results of their surveys on April 25, and Hairston will submit her budget to the city the following week. It would be great if, along with the usual meat-and-potatoes infrastructure repairs, the committees advance some innovative transportation projects into the 5th Ward’s budget this year.

  • CL

    The potholes are so bad right now that I almost think the aldermen should be spending their entire budgets fixing the streets. There are deep holes everywhere, and it’s a serious safety concern — I see a lot of cars swerving to avoid them, sometimes narrowly missing other cars or pedestrians. The potholes are bad for bikes too — just yesterday, my friend’s bike tire was busted when she hit a pothole, and all of the swerving that’s going on can’t be good for cyclist safety.

    The other projects are nice, but the current state of our streets is really an emergency.

  • JacobEPeters

    The idea of forgoing menu money for pot hole reduction is more likely to cause Alderman to increase the street maintenance budget. Since they would want to keep that menu money for projects they want to claim sole responsibility for.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Fixing your constituent’s potholes keeps them happy. Having to wait a year or three, because of budgeting, to get potholes fixed thru the maintenance budget means unhappy voters. So to get money to fix those potholes, an alderman would have to submit a least a year in advance for repairs on certain streets, even if those streets are not the most treacherous. Because if the alderman can predict with certainty where potholes will appear he or she wouldn’t have to spend menu money on potholes.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Why so rough on Hairston? At least she’s trying to create some openness and transparency. Most of the other alderman spend their menu money with little or no input. Just because she does not choose transportation projects you want doesn’t mean she is not doing the best she can with limited funds to get needed projects for her constituent completed.

  • ohsweetnothing

    When you say “fixing potholes”, are you talking street resurfacing? Because fixing/filling potholes are done outside of the menu program…

  • I actually took it pretty easy on Hairston. If you read our coverage of last year’s PB election, you’ll understand that she disqualified the projects the she felt weren’t important, which goes against the spirit of the PB process:

  • Alicia

    one in 500 residents of the ward residents

    This post brought to you by the Department of Redundancy Department.

  • kastigar

    Does anyone know of, or publish a list of which of the 50 alderman publish now the menu money is spent? Have some kind of participatory election by residents on how it should be spent? Which aldermen publish their budget and which avoid publishing it?

  • JacobEPeters

    exactly as ohsweetnothing said
    an alderman shouldn’t have to put money towards fulfilling the basic responsibilities of DOT street maintenance, it’s like telling an alderman to spend money on street cleaning

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Some streets are so pothole ridden, resufacing is needed. Menu money can cover it. Having to wait for city to budget for it may take more than a year. Take a ride up Greenview beteween Diversy and Belmont. Its rough.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Other than not getting what you wanted, can you site anything specific that money was spent on that didn’t benefit her constituents

  • What I wanted is less important than what the constituents wanted. Sure, repaving streets and fixing streetlights is beneficial, but what’s the point of holding a participatory election if the alderman is going to disqualify a large percentage the constituents’ proposals?


Street Repairs Make It on 5th Ward PB Ballot; CTA and Bike Projects Don’t

Traditionally, Chicago aldermen choose to spend their discretionary “menu” funds on meat-and-potatoes infrastructure projects like street repaving, sidewalk repair, and streetlight replacement. This week, however, residents in four different wards are voting in participatory budgeting elections, helping to decide how their district’s $1.3 million in menu money will be spent. Three of the wards will […]