To show Lansing residents how their taxes are being spent, Mayor Andy Schor along with directors and heads of several city departments held a participatory budget meeting Wednesday night in the Cristo Rey Community Center’s gym.The night started with Finance Director Angie Bennett, breaking down the budget. Andi Crawford, director of the department of Neighborhoods and Citizen Engagement, followed discussing budget goals. Specifically,they are creating opportunities for economic development by providing basic support, economic mobility, improving quality of life, and attracting and developing businesses.
These budget nights are intended to provide residents a voice about the issues that are important to them, which Schor said is important.
“We need to be able to explain to the citizens, why we are putting so much money toward honoring our commitment. It’s a transparency issue. So, the reason we do this is to have this conversation, to listen and to inform the public. So when Andi Crawford says, ‘what are your thoughts, ideas, criticisms?’ We mean it. That’s transparency. Transparency isn’t just hearing people on social media. It’s getting out and talking to people live” said Schor.
“Transparency in government is tremendously important. It’s why we do this. My first year last year, we did our budget when we came in. My administration took office Jan. 1 and it was a lot coming at us at one time, including having to get to know a budget director, who I didn’t really know very well, and having the trust to put together a budget and get it going. We didn’t do things like this. We just took the existing budget and said ‘let’s put our own tweak on it and put it out there’ and then we kinda opened it up to public comment through the city council process. After that, we got together, I got with my budget director, with my neighborhoods director and said we really need to be engaging the public” said Mayor Schor.
Participatory budget nights were created to foster this type of communication between government and citizen in the most efficient way, as Crawford puts it.
“A lot of my colleagues get frustrated with me for many reasons. One of the reasons is that I boil down their life work into two bullet points and put in on a one-pager. Because a lot of what I do is trying to translate very complicated information and then try to make it something you can show up in an evening and say ‘this aligns with my priorities,’ or ‘this is totality counter to how I think,’ or somewhere inbetween. Either this aligns with my priorities or it doesn’t. Pie charts really mean something. That’s a picture you could really start to understand,” said Crawford.
One resident at the meeting, Bob Peña who ran for Ingham County Commission last November, believes these nights to be important as well.
“You know we pay taxes, we just want to know how to handle that a little better. We pay money, we should know how our money is spent. The better I know, the better I’ll tell other people, then the better they’ll know and better decisions will be made by the folks that govern us,” said Peña, who has lived in Lansing for 35 years.