Beyond having a seat at public hearings, New Yorkers should have a real vote in the policy decisions that will affect them. This should move beyond a practice to a standard across agencies.
For example, initiatives that allow taxpayers to collaborate in the budgetary process should be mandated. For the past two years, residents of eight City Council districts have met to decide how to spend discretionary dollars in their communities, a process known as participatory budgeting. It began in 2011 with four City Council members, who were joined by four more in 2012.
This year,10 Council members are expected to let residents democratically decide how to use funds earmarked for the community. This type of participation is a new and more democratic approach.
Separately, under a new law signed by the state legislature, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) was required to expand its board from four to seven members. Three of the members must be residents of public housing.
This is a positive initiative. Thanks to the increase in votes and direct participation, these new board members can use their first-hand experience and knowledge to represent tenants and tackle common problems and concerns among fellow residents. They can balance out board members who too often become out of touch with the frustrations of New Yorkers.
Until recently, NYCHA tenants lacked the opportunity for direct representation. Mayor Michael Bloomberg should fast-track the new board appointments in this historic change for the largest public housing authority in the nation.
Others public agencies and services would benefit from having users participate in how they are operated. For example, with 5 million daily customers, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority should have straphangers at a table that should also reflect the demographics of this City.
Lawmakers in Albany and the City Council must go beyond changing NYCHA. They must encourage New Yorkers to participate democratically in the operation of essential programs and services.
Democracy doesn’t end once the votes are counted. The relationship between elected and appointed officials and the public must be ongoing, and New Yorkers must be welcomed and encouraged to participate in decision-making.