The City Council and City Manager Tai Jaiyeoba expressed agreement that the Participatory Budgeting program isn’t working at the Thursday, Sept. 28 work session.
While a number of problems were talked about, the big one–the one that it appears will cause the demise of the current program–is that the wrong people are participating.
One of the constant struggles of the Participatory Budgeting program is that the vast majority of the people in Greensboro don’t participate. In fact, 99.3 percent of the population of Greensboro didn’t vote in the last round of Participatory Budgeting.
But the problem that is going to kill the program is that the 0.7 percent of people who did participate are the wrong people and according to Jaiyeoba don’t fit in with “city priorities.”
After the presentation Jaiyeoba said, “I think the elephant in the room is, is this working and the way I look at it is that it is not meeting the original intent of the PB program.”
The “elephant” is in the demographics of those who participate in Participatory Budgeting. In the last round of Participatory Budgeting, 72 percent of those voting were white and 15 percent were black. In the income level category, basically, as the income level increases so does the percentage of participation and Participatory Budgeting. Only 18 percent of those participating were 34 years old or younger, while 36 percent were over 55.
The fact that those voting in Participatory Budgeting elections tended to be white, wealthier and older than the population of Greensboro was seen as a problem.
District 1 Councilmember Sharon Hightower said, “I don’t think it’s working either.”
She added, “It’s very disturbing that only 15 percent of African Americans participate.”
District 5 Councilmember Tammi Thurm, who is the council liaison to the Participatory Budgeting Commission, said, “This format isn’t working. We don’t have enough people voting and we don’t have people voting equitably across the city.”
She added, “We went to online voting to try and drive the numbers up. We still had just as many in person meetings and in person places to vote, but we added online voting hoping that would drive the numbers up, and it did drive the numbers up, but it only drove the numbers up in certain areas, which is problematic.”
Those areas where the numbers went up were District 4, represented by Councilmember Nancy Hoffmann, which totaled 714 votes, and District 3, represented by Councilmember Zack Matheny, which had 660 votes.
City Council District 2 represented by Councilmember Goldie Wells had the lowest total number of votes at 218, followed by District 5 with 255 and District 1 with 271.