'People's Budget' group pushes Cleveland City Council to support Bibb's Civic Participation Fund
After Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb proposed legislation for a Civic Participation Fund Monday, a group that’s long pushed for “participatory budgeting” legislation rallied outside of Cleveland City Hall before a city council meeting to encourage support for the mayor’s proposal.
“Participatory Budgeting Cleveland,” often called PB CLE, hosted the rally. PB CLE is a grassroots coalition created in 2021 that yearns for participatory budgeting – a concept that gives community members more direct decision-making power on how to spend a chunk of a city’s budget.
“To come up with sustainable ideas that we sit at our kitchen table, thinking about our issues and already coming up with an answer, but not having the resources,” Robin Brown, a PB CLE member said at the rally. “This is a way we can start having the resources.”
The mayor's Civic Participation Fund proposal is a $5.5 million pilot program that would create Cleveland’s first-ever participatory budget. If passed, residents could propose and vote for neighborhood projects. PB CLE is calling it the “People’s Budget.”
PB CLE member Keshawn Walker was critical of how financial decisions are currently made in city hall.
“You want to move money from here to here and have just left in the middle, who is the every day working class individual, left in the dark,” Walker said.
Ward 12 Councilwoman Rebecca Maurer and Ward 15 Councilwoman Jenny Spencer attended the rally to show support of PB CLE’s efforts.
“This is a simple idea,” Maurer said. “The people closest to the problems are the people closest to the solutions.”
After the gathering on the city hall steps, several PB CLE members attended the city council meeting. A good number of them gave public comment. All public comments Monday night regarded participatory funding.
“Opposing a people’s budget means looking residents in the eye and telling them that they don’t deserve a vote on how to spend public money,” PB CLE co-coordinator Jonathan Welle said to city council.
Some of the public comments suggested that a participatory budget would encourage more people to get involved with voting and other aspects of the democratic process.
“That was really the beauty of participatory budgeting,” Ayat Amin said during public comment. “It included new people to participate in our government – immigrants like my parents, high schoolers, folks with unstable housing. It was about giving everyone a say in our government.”
The $5.5 million is part of a $40 million ARPA funding proposal that included seven other line items that the mayor made Monday.
Cleveland City Council President and Ward 6 Councilman Blaine Griffin opposes the Civic Participation Fund proposal.
“I think that people should be coming and engaging with us anyway. And then I think that a council member like myself would be willing to listen and try to implement some of their ideas. But just to set aside a pot of money, I don’t think that that is good governance,” Griffin said.
Ward 17 Councilman Charles Slife was impartial on the fund but expressed potential concerns.
“One of the concerns certainly coming from council members is how we balance the understandable and good desires for citizens to get more involved alongside our role as elected representatives of the people of the city of Cleveland,” Slife said.
PB CLE’s long-term ask from the city for a participation budget is $30.8 million – a symbolic number relating to PB CLE’s estimate that 30.8 percent of the city’s population lives in poverty.