Mayor Gray’s One City Summit wasn’t, as I originally thought, an opportunity for District residents to provide input for his proposed Fiscal Year 2013 budget — or at least, input that might substantially change the budget his staff is developing.
It wasn’t even a chance to set the agenda for making the District “truly ‘One City,'” though the online feedback site suggested as much.
Ideas galore were offered there. And a set developed by the Fair Budget Coalition got far more votes than the rest.
But when I looked at the topics the Summit would focus on, they were the same as before the feedback was collected.
So I figured that what the Mayor really wanted was to build support for his core strategies to promote long-term job creation and local employment. That and to make us all feel he’s listening to us.
But I went to the Summit anyway to see what I could learn — and whether I could perhaps broaden the conversation to include what I view as some additional urgent priorities for low-income District residents.
We were, after all, told that the Summit “was a chance to express [our] views and make [our] voices heard.”
And it was in one sense. We were divided into small groups, each seated around a table. And we were free to say whatever we chose.
At the outset, this produced interesting results because the first substantive questions our small groups were to answer made just about anything on our minds relevant.
One of them sought our views on the greatest challenges to One City. My table mates and I agreed that affordable housing was a big one.
So apparently did many other participants because affordable housing/gentrification gained the most votes when we were all asked to choose the top three challenges from a list of those the small-table process had generated.
Maybe this will have some effect on the Mayor’s budget. That would certainly make for proposals very different from last year’s.
Perhaps the budget will also reflect some of the other broadly-shared concerns, e.g., the need for more affordable, high-quality child care slots for infants and toddlers.
And certainly the Mayor got a ringing endorsement for his plans to orient education and training toward in-demand skills in our evolving labor market.
But I personally feel that the highly-controlled structure of the Summit process filtered out ideas and concerns that didn’t fit his job creation/employment framework. Take a look at the small-group worksheets and you’ll see what I mean.
And some ideas that did fit the structure were shorn of budget impact — presumably by the team (or computer program) that compiled what the group as a whole could see and vote on.
Small groups, for example, apparently agreed that poverty was a major challenge for parents of young children. This was reflected in the reported results.
But none of the government resources and services captured by the team addressed income supports like the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
My table agreed that TANF cash benefits should be increased and the five-year lifetime limit rescinded. Were we the only participants that sent a message of this sort to the team that compiled responses?
Should that have been enough to screen it out if we were?
Perhaps I’m expecting too much of a citizens engagement event like the Summit. But I can’t help feeling that the Mayor heard what he wanted to because the Summit was structured that way.
He who pays the piper calls the tune, as they say. And the payment, as you probably know, was a big one.
I think I’m in a minority here.
By and large, participants the press interviewed seemed pleased that they had a chance to speak out. Which I assume means they thought what they said would make a difference — or at any rate, hoped it would.
And the Summit certainly did, as one said, give us the benefit of coming together to “throw ideas around and lift each other up.”
Will it produce a budget that aims to lift up the struggling residents who sat around my table?
We’ll find out in a month or so.