Councilors Bok, Mejia, Arroyo, and Breadon file hearing orders to discuss more inclusive and imaginative approaches to city budgeting
Exactly six months into their first term on the Boston City Council, new Councilors Kenzie Bok, Julia Mejia, Ricardo Arroyo, and Liz Breadon filed two hearing orders this week to explore more inclusive and imaginative approaches to Boston’s budgeting process.
“As a new Ways and Means Chair for the Council, I made numerous changes this year to increase the quality of participation in the City’s budget process, including by adding staff clinics and working sessions, posting responses to information requests online, and scheduling dedicated public testimony hearings. Over our first six months on the job, however, we first-year Councilors have learned that we need a deeper shift,” said Councilor Bok. “We need space for earlier budget conversations that can move from shifting marginal dollars to envisioning whole new programs, and we need a more robust role for the public beyond offering testimony on a mayoral proposal.”
The “Order for a hearing regarding participatory budgeting in Boston”, introduced by Councilors Bok, Mejia, and Breadon, will explore models of participatory budgeting that could enable members of the public to take a more active and decisive role earlier in Boston’s budgeting process.
“I am proud to be working with my colleagues to make the budget process more accessible to everyone — because this isn’t the mayor’s budget, this is the people’s budget. The budget is the Council’s most important responsibility, and it is our job to bring the people to the table,” Councilor Mejia said. “Because if we’re not at the table, we’re on the menu. We ran on a campaign of government accountability and civic engagement, and even filed a hearing on public hearings. We have always said that in order to realize community-driven goals, we need to involve the community. During the last few weeks of the budget process, we saw passion and activism that motivated and uplifted us, and we want to continue that through to next year’s budget.”
Breadon agreed, adding, “So many people feel excluded from the budget making process. Participatory budgeting is a positive way to directly engage with residents in order to bring more voices to the table when deciding how resources are allocated.”
Accompanying this will be an “Order for a hearing regarding zero-based budget visions for alternative community investment”, sponsored by Councilors Bok, Mejia, and Arroyo, which will adopt a “zero-based budgeting” approach and invite community visions of new programs and departments to tackle issues like racial equity, shared prosperity, public health, and public safety.
“Our budget is a reflection of our values,” said Councilor Arroyo. “‘Zero-based budgeting’ allows Boston to create a budget in partnership with our communities, ensuring our budgets better reflect our shared values and that addressing racial and socioeconomic inequities are at the forefront of our budgeting process and the allocation of our tax dollars.”
Added Bok, “Creating space for community creativity and wisdom to feed into budget creation is the only way to enable a real transformation of how the City does its business and whom it serves. I’m very proud to have entered the Council alongside Councilors Mejia, Arroyo, and Breadon, and I’m excited about how we can shake up the budget process going forward.”
Councilors Bok, Campbell, Edwards and O’Malley file hearing orders to monitor effective reduction of police overtime and launch community discussion of Boston’s police contracts as policy documents
Councilor Kenzie Bok, chair of the Ways & Means Committee, and Councilor Andrea Campbell, chair of the Public Safety & Criminal Justice Committee, filed two hearing orders this week to focus Council oversight on two areas with major impacts on Boston’s police budget: making planned cuts in police overtime spending a reality, and negotiating new police contracts consistent with good public policy. Councilor Lydia Edwards co-sponsored the hearing order on the police contracts, and Councilor Matt O’Malley co-sponsored the hearing order on controlling overtime spending.
“Police accountability includes budget accountability — which means the Council’s Ways & Means Committee needs to see these overtime cuts be made real. In this first hearing we will demand a plan, and then we will institute quarterly hearings to hold the Administration to that plan,” said Councilor Bok. “Yet to win the broader accountability our community is demanding, in terms of both disciplinary procedures and a reduction in the share of city funds dedicated to policing, we know we need change in the police contract. This is a contract that shapes the conditions for the use of deadly force, which makes it a public policy issue of the highest order. We are calling for this hearing to underscore that neither the Council nor the community can accept an extension of the status quo.”
“Transforming our policing system requires many reforms and the budget including our exorbitant overtime costs is one area in need of immediate reform,” said Councilor Andrea Campbell. “Many of the reforms residents, activists, and I have been pushing for must be initiated in collective bargaining discussions including disciplinary practices for officers, overtime minimums and regulations, and training requirements for officers within the police department. With thousands of Bostonians calling for change to our police union contracts the discussions cannot be done completely in private with no sense of the administration’s positions at the bargaining table. I am proud to sponsor these hearing orders to ensure actual police overtime savings and increase the level of understanding and transparency with respect to our police union contracts.”
The “Order for a hearing regarding police overtime” will ask the Walsh Administration and the Boston Police Department to present an active management plan for achieving the $12 million reduction in police overtime promised in the FY21 budget. The Council will also look at the history of how police overtime was reduced in past administrations, and will investigate what procedural or programmatic changes could lead to less need for overtime overall — including reducing or eliminating military exercises, halting the over-policing of black and brown men through disproportionate stops, and taking other steps to respond to public distrust, especially in communities of color.
“Across the country and in Boston, we are calling for transparency, accountability, and justice in our public safety and criminal justice system,” said Councilor Matt O’Malley. “Addressing the overtime budget is among the many systematic changes we must address, considering that its spending has drastically increased by 84 percent over the past decade. I look forward to taking a deeper review at the hearing including discussing removing any policies that encourage the use of overtime as a normal rather than an unusual practice, addressing the four-hour minimum for court details, and implementing an accountability mechanism for reviewing payroll data.”
The “Order for a hearing regarding police contracts as policy documents” will focus on the public policy issues at stake in Boston’s police contracts, which are all up for renegotiation this year. To secure police accountability and transparency will require changes to these contracts, as will efforts to achieve an overall shift in departmental resource allocations. From disciplinary procedures to overtime rates, many of the issues discussed in the press in recent weeks are dictated by provisions of these police contracts, so Councilors will bring them under public scrutiny.
“I am so excited to help lead this conversation with Chairwoman Bok,” said Councilor Lydia Edwards. “This is really the first time the City Council is approaching the police contract with a policy and best practices approach. When people talk about reforming and reimagining the police, we must start with the contracts.”
Councilor Bok agreed that this is an important and appropriate way for the Council to weigh in on the new police contracts. “While the Council cannot sit at the negotiating table, we can inform the negotiation by hosting a public hearing to discuss and hear from advocates about the many critical issues at stake, and by broadcasting the Council’s policy expectations about these contracts before they are agreed and sent to the Ways & Means Committee for funding. The demands for police accountability that we are hearing from black and brown activists are urgent but long-standing; we cannot and will not approach these contracts as business-as-usual.”
Councilors will provide further remarks on this important effort at this week’s Boston City Council meeting on Wednesday July 8, 2020 which begins at 12PM. Watch: https://www.boston.gov/departments/city-council