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Last night’s City Commission meeting on the 2022 Budget was just the latest example of government contempt of public input

May 19, 2021

Last night, the Grand Rapids City Commission held their final opportunity for people to comment on the 2022 City Budget.

As has been the case for the past year, the overwhelming number of people who called in were in favor of Defunding the GRPD to the City Charter mandated 32%. Those who favored reducing the GRPD budget also echoed the demands of the group Defund the GRPD, which included a no vote on adopting the 2022 Budget as is and providing a participatory budgeting process so that the public has a real say in how their tax money is spent.

There were some who called in to support the GRPD and the current proposed City Budget, which included former police officers, the head of Voice for the Badge, people (white) who didn’t live in Grand Rapids and someone representing the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. You can draw these conclusions for yourself, by watching/listening to last nights City Commission meeting.

There was some local commercial news coverage of last night’s meeting, but not as much as one would think. Only MLive and WZZM 13 ran stories, as of this posting. The coverage from both of these dominant news sources was fairly standard as far as commercial news reporting goes.

First, both channel 13 and MLive did the whole both sides of the issue perspective. WZZM 13 had short comments from someone who is with Defund the GRPD and a neighborhood association representative. The headline for the Live article read, Opinions for and against ‘defunding the police’ voiced to Grand Rapids city commissioners. However, the MLive writer even acknowledged in the second paragraph:

“about 30 people called in to the Grand Rapids City Commission’s virtual meeting, with the majority of them telling city commissioners to defund the Grand Rapids Police Department.”

This didn’t stop the MLive writer from providing equal comments from those who were demanding a defunding of the GRPD and those who supporter the GRPD. This is just dishonest reporting, all in the name of presenting both sides.

Second, both news agencies never bother to provide any verification of the claims made by the public or City officials, instead they chose to act as stenographers on a topic that has far reaching implications for this community.

Third, the MLive article then gave the most space to City Manager Mark Washington. Washington, who is appointed by the City Commission and not elected, stated that the examples of cities that are using participatory budgeting, “only allocate a small fraction of their budgets for residents to directly say where the money goes.” While this may be true in some cases, it is not so in all cases, as one can read on the Participatory Budgeting Project page. Such dismissive comments from Washington miss the main point, which is the fact that there are cities all across the country and all across the world where the public has a say in how they want municipalities to spent public money. 

Washington is then quoted at length, saying:

“There is no city, mid-size urban city that turns over the entire budget from which there are bond requirements, there are debt obligations, contractual obligations for the entire — there’s no government that, the state doesn’t do it, the county doesn’t do it, the federal government surely doesn’t do it,” Washington said. “But there are ways to engage community members in the budgeting process and I think this budget has done that prior to the post-budget adoption process and we are even willing to do it even more (after the budget is adopted).”

First, when Washington claims the city has engaged the community in this budgeting process without providing clear examples of how that has happened is bullshit. The MLive writer should have questioned him or at least verified such a claim.

Secondly, Washington’s comment about no local, county or federal government giving the public complete say in the budgeting process in simply stupid. No one else does it, so we shouldn’t? Let’s think about that for a second using the same logic. If no local or federal government has abolished slavery, we shouldn’t do it either. If no local or federal government every provided Black people the right the vote, we shouldn’t do it either. If no local or federal government passed laws or ordinances against lynching, we shouldn’t do it either. If no local or federal government made it illegal to practice red-lining, then we shouldn’t do it either…….hopefully, you get the point. 

Ultimately, what Mark Washington is saying is that the public is incapable of having an informed say in the “complexities” of the City Budget. Washington and the rest of the City Officials have made it clear that they do not believe in participatory democracy and that lots of people in this community – which is code for Black, Brown and poor – do not know what is best for themselves. Fortunately, many social justice movements in this community, specifically Defund the GRPD, fully believe in the value of letting people, particularly people most affected by police harm, have a say in how money should be spent in this community. 

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