The last two weeks have provided a steady list of reasons to be cynical about government as a whole, and the doling out of taxpayer funding in particular. But running on parallel tracks has been an attempt at opening up the decision-making process to three Queens lawmakers’ constituents.
Councilmen Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) and Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) were three of eight city legislators to enroll in Participatory Budgeting, which allows constituents to vote on the allocation of up to $1 million in discretionary funding.
Halloran and Weprin’s districts ended their voting on April 7; Ulrich’s will continue through Friday.
The lawmakers were happy with the process overall, but three constituents voiced concerns to the Queens Chronicle over the need to provide a date of birth to cast votes.
“It was enormously successful. We had hundreds of people involved in the preliminary process,” Weprin said, alluding to the first round of discussions that set the projects listed on the ballots. More than 1,000 voters showed up to one of eight polling locations within the 23rd Council District.
“I have been thrilled with the reaction we’ve been getting from constituents who voted,” Weprin said. “We had people lining up like they would for the general election.”
Participatory Budgeting is the brainchild of the Participatory Budgeting Project, a non-profit that helps communities organize votes and make decisions on how to dole out discretionary funding, a form of taxpayer subsidy that has recently been derided as a corrupting influence in government. The PBP pushes Participatory Budgeting as a means to get voters more involved in government, while also limiting the corruption often associated with spending public money.
The results of the vote in the 23rd Council District were to have been released on Wednesday night, well after this paper went to the presses. But some constituents with identity theft concerns were upset by the need to provide a date of birth and address along with their vote.
Bob Friedrich, the president of the Glen Oaks Village Co-op, said he was not allowed to vote because he refused to provide his birthdate. He was told to fill out a provisional ballot that also required his date of birth.
“It’s an outrage,” Friedrich said.
The rules and process have been set by a steering committee, which set the parameters for participation so that a person’s residence must be within the district and they were limited to only one vote, according to Pam Jennings, the PBP’s project coordinator.
“The steering committee recognized the need to control for double voting,” she said.
Halloran’s 19th district released its results on Monday morning, with the Poppenhusen Institute, a historic landmark in College Point, purportedly netting the entirety of the $250,000 in city funds slated for it.
The results of that vote will be honored, according to Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), who will oversee the disbursement of Halloran’s discretionary funds, along with Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan). Halloran was stripped of that ability last week after being charged with taking bribes.