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A 1 hour virtual town hall meeting for the public to weigh in on the 2022 Grand Rapids City Budget is a cruel joke

May 3, 2021

Last Thursday, MLive post an article with the headline, Grand Rapids mayor, manager hosting virtual town hall to talk 2021-2022 spending plan.

The proposed Grand Rapids City Budget for 2022 is a document that is 428 pages long and is not an easy read. (Linked here) The public will have to read the 428 page 2022 Grand Rapids City Budget before this Thursday, May 6th, if they want to make an informed comment about the 2022 Budget during the 1 hour virtual town hall meeting that the City is hosting. However, if you read the MLive article, it’s as if the City is doing us a favor by hosting this town hall.

The MLive article does state that there will be other opportunities to weigh in on the City’s budget”

Community members can give public comment and feedback at two of the city’s budget work sessions: one at 9 a.m. on May 4 and the other at 1 p.m. on May 11.

There are also opportunities to comment at the commission’s regular 7 p.m. meeting on May 11, as well as the public hearing on the budget at the commission’s 7 p.m. meeting on May 18

A last opportunity for comment will be at the commission’s special meeting 9 a.m. May 20, when elected leaders are slated to approve the finalized plan.

While some might think that these other opportunities are important, they are marginal at best. Three of the 5 additional opportunities happen during the day, when most people are at work. Calling in to comment during the regular City Commission meeting is better, but still limited, since we don’t yet know if the public comment will be at the beginning of the meeting or at the end. If public comment is at the end, then people might not be able to weigh in on the 2022 City Budget until 8 or 9pm. For those who work during the day and need to get up early and for those who have children, staying up that late on a week night can be difficult, especially since people are only given 3 minutes in which to speak.  

The public hearing on May 18 is the next best opportunity besides the town hall on May 6, but again, people will only have 3 minutes to speak on how they want their tax dollars to be spent by City Officials.

Even if people were able to attend and participate in all 6 meetings between now and May 20th, when City Officials will vote on the 2022 City Budget, that still only give people 18 minutes to be able to articulate their concerns and provide input on the already created 428 page 2022 Grand Rapids City Budget. 

If people really believe in a democratic process and really want the public to be central to the policies that are voted on by elected officials, then this process is nothing more than a cruel joke. It is particularly cruel right now, especially since there have literally been thousands of people weighing in on the amount of money that the GRPD receives each year, along with how we are faced with a series housing crisis in this city. You could also add that there are thousands of families still deeply impacted by the COVID pandemic, the structural racism that permeates this city and the climate crisis that threatens all of life. So yes, giving people just a few minutes to weigh in on how their tax dollars are spent is a cruel joke.

The City’s budget will determine where public tax dollars go and how they will be used, so shouldn’t the public have more time and have just as much say as City Officials? This is why we so desperately need to adopt a participatory budgeting process in Grand Rapids, a process that is more democratic and involves as many people who want to participate. In addition, people would be making these decisions and providing input over a year long process, instead of being invite to weigh in at the last minute on a budget that was already crafted. Check out the resources at the Participatory Budgeting site and let’s get organized to demand that the City of Grand Rapids adopt such a process or we will disrupt business as usual with all kinds of Direct Action!

For right now, I would encourage people to check out the information and actions that Defund the GRPD has going on over the next 2 weeks, which challenges the status quo are funding priorities for the City of Grand Rapids.

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