On this segment of Walking and Talking, I chatted with three Cleveland residents about Issue 38 and participatory budgeting: Asia Jones of Collinwood, Brendan Heil of West Park, and Chardon Black of Mount Pleasant.
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Read a transcript of the podcast below
Asia: My name is Asia Jones. I’m a resident of Collinwood. I’ve been a resident in Ward 8 since I’ve lived in Cleveland.
Najee: What’s your favorite thing about living in Collinwood?
Asia: One of my favorite things is because how close I live to the water. You can smell the beach. It’s very refreshing. It’s nothing like it: the smell of just earth and in your neighborhood at that. And also we have a really neighborly culture.
Najee: So being in support of it, what benefits do you think PB CLE will bring to Cleveland and Cleveland neighborhoods?
Asia: It’s such an inclusive policy. When we talk about the age range that PB CLE is looking to prioritize, they’re talking about youth voices. From ages 13 on up to a 100. If you feel like you’re youth at a 100, you know the inclusivity and the diversity of ages and issues.
Najee: So you mentioned the variety of ages and that was something that you appreciate about this project. That’s been a point of contention for some who maybe are against PB CLE. They say 13 is too young to be making decisions about 2 percent, $14 million, of the city budget. Why do you think it’s important for teenagers to be involved in the process?
Asia: 13 year olds now have a different life. They’ve gone through a pandemic. They have different needs. So I think about that if I’m a leader, I wanna make hyper-informed decisions, not just based on data. We know how inaccurate data can be at times, but I wanna make hyper-informed decisions on budgeting, on health, on so many different things that can support changes in the trajectory of someone’s life. I think it’s important for these hyper-informed decisions to come from the hearts and the minds of the youth.
Najee: If PB CLE does pass, what are some projects you would like to see those funds allocated for?
Asia: Our local parks. In the inner city, we have to go out to Shaker or Parma for the quality of parks. I love Cleveland but I would definitely like to see more strategic reinvestment into our local playgrounds big and small.
I think another thing would be supportive mental health mobile units around the city. A lot of people are suffering, and it may look as aggression or violence or things like that but that’s not always the case. We need to flood our communities with more services that are not just policing.
Brendan: My name is Brendan Heil. I currently live in the West Park neighborhood of Cleveland. But I grew up in Detroit Shoreway. And I’ve actually lived all of my life in the city of Cleveland.
Najee: Could you share with me what your favorite thing is about living in West Park?
Brendan: I actually like how surprisingly walkable it is. Within 15 minutes of me by walk or bike, there’s a red line. There’s a number of restaurants, actually a pretty wide range of different types of restaurants. They’re not all Irish pubs.
Najee: Are you familiar with Issue 38 and participatory budgeting?
Brendan: I am. I’ve actually read the entire charter amendment. I will admit, I actually do municipal work for a living so this is kind of oddly in my very nerdy wheelhouse. I’m an attorney at a private law firm, but previously, I was the law director for the city of Sandusky. I’m against Issue 38. The concept of participatory budgeting I’m more curious about but the actual charter will actually be voted on I am strongly opposed to.
Najee: Okay, and can you share why you are opposed to the charter?
Brendan: Yeah, there’s actually a few reasons. One, it’s a charter amendment, so it’s going to be there forever. The siphoning off of what today is about $14 million into a separate fund that can only be used for certain things is bad government at the municipal level, because we have no idea in 10 or 20 years what the city’s finances will look like, and limiting our flexibility on funding is always a bad idea for city governments.
Setting up additional committees, boards, bureaucracy, additional layers of government is sometimes self defeating because it makes it harder for everyday citizens to interact with their government, and that’s what this is. The charter amendment requires us to set up a whole new board and run very hyper local elections. That’s a lot of process that people have to navigate.
When you make things more process heavy, it means that folks that don’t have a lot of resources or don’t have a lot of time or have to work one or two jobs, they can’t do stuff during nine to five. They’re cut out of the process.
Most likely the people that will be able to take advantage of participatory budgeting the way it’s designed in this charter amendment are folks that least need the resources that the proponents are proposing to try to get into certain neighborhoods.
Lastly, some of the reasons that I’ve heard from proponents who I really think are coming from a good place. I know a few of the folks who are leading the charge on the pro PB CLE side. They’re really good people. They want to make our city better. I just disagree with this being the way to do it. It’s not going to solve some of the issues that they’ve raised about funding stadiums and giving handouts to developers, things like that. But this charter member doesn’t affect any of those things. Those will still exist if this passes.
I think that it’s coming from a good place. Folks that want to see change happen, want to make their communities better, but this is not the way to do it.
Najee: Do you have any potential solutions?
Brendan: Yeah, that’s a great question. Specifically with participatory budgeting, I think a pilot funded at a smaller level. Try it out first. How are you going to actually run these things? Is it actually reaching the people that you’re trying to reach? Or is the concern that I raised about process keeping people at home isn’t having the impact, show it.
Chardon: My name is Chardon Black. I live in the Mount Pleasant area of Cleveland, Ohio. I’ve lived here for the past five years.
Najee: What’s your favorite thing about living in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood?
Chardon: I think it’s culture, it has a lot of rich history. I’m just gonna say it, there’s a lot of old people here in this area. And they’re all participatory in the community. I see people attending the nearby community center, I see people at church every Sunday, so I see oldness but at the same time, they carry themselves with this rich intelligence and rich experience that I never find anywhere else. And it’s always just insightful being able to have conversations with them.
Najee: Which high school are you currently attending?
Chardon: I go to the Cleveland School of Science and Medicine at John Hay.
Najee: What year are you right now?
Chardon: Right now I’m a senior.
Najee: Wonderful! Any college plans?
Chardon: I’m shooting pretty high right now. My mom always told me to really play the long game and shoot for the stars. So right now I’m really looking towards going out of state. My top three are Stanford, Yale and Columbia.
Najee: I know that when I initially reached out to you, you weren’t aware of the issue or the charter. I know since then, you have had some time to read up on it a bit. So since reading up on it, can you tell me what your kind of first initial reactions were?
Chardon: I was really surprised to see that they were trying to take away this money. And I really thought about it on a deeper level and I thought about sort of the political ramifications behind it. Like, what would they be trying to do with this money? Overall, I see what they’re going for and I see what they’re trying to accomplish. But it’s not necessarily there yet. I think there needs to be a lot more time spent engaging with the community to hear how the community feels and that’s why I feel like this could be good and bad at the same time.
So I saw that it sort of tries to boost civic participation. And you know, civics participation is really low in Cleveland, people hardly vote in midterms. People hardly vote in general elections. So I saw that it’s sort of playing into that and trying to invest funds into that.
Everybody can have good ideas and everybody can put those good ideas forward and vote on those good ideas. But at the end of the day, only one good idea is going to work. And so we have to create this environment in which everyone’s ideas and everyone’s feelings and opinions are equally represented. At the same time, we also recognize that at the end of the day, only one decision is going to go to plan and that only one decision is going to turn into action.