January 09, 2023

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Public Commenters (15 min)
Ayat Amin  Karim Ragab  Jonathan Welle  George Hrbek  Ben Stein 

Ayat Amin

Blaine Griffin: We will now move to Public Comment. I'd ask all council members if you could turn your chairs around, to face the speakers.

Uh, the first speaker that we have is: Ayat Amin, from Ward 3, to talk about participatory budgeting. Uh, Ayat is not representing anyone and is not being paid by anyone.

Ayat Amin: Hello! Can you all here me, today? Wonderful! My name is Ayat Amin. I'm here today as a resident of Ward 3, asking council to support the Civic Participation Fund.

This would bring the process of participatory budgeting to Cleveland. And I'll be honest. When I first heard about participatory budgeting, I didn't really understand what was so special about it.

It wasn't until I saw a 10-minute Atlantic video, that showed the process in action, in New York City--that I really saw the genius of it.

In that video, there was a minute where it showed a community of immigrants speaking in their native language. Talking about ways the budget could be used in their community.

They were asking for things like--street lights and fixing potholes. And that really spoke to me, because I immediately thought of my parents--who are immigrants from Iraq.

They lived in America for eight years, on a green card, until they became U.S. citizens.

During that time, that was nearly a decade, where they were living in America and didn't have a say in their government. If participatory budgeting had existed back then, they would have had a say.

I can imagine how my mother would have asked for more trees on her street, because my brother had asthma. I can imagine how my dad would have worked with the neighbors, to find more Halal food options in our neighborhood.

And that was really the beauty of participatory budgeting. It included new people to participate in our government. Immigrants like my parents, high schoolers, folks with unstable housing.

It's all, it was about--giving everyone a say in our government--and that's really what democracy is about.

It's the reason that my parents came to America. I know my parents would have participated. My dad has not missed a single election, has voted in every single election, since he became a U.S. citizen.

I'm here today because I want to continue advocating for the America my parents imagined, when they came here. And that is why I'm sincerely asking council to support the Civic Participation Fund.

Thank you.

Blaine Griffin: Thank you.

2:44 Permalink

Karim Ragab

Blaine Griffin: Next, we have Karim Ragab--from Ward 4--to talk about participatory budgeting.

Karim is not representing anyone and is not being paid by anyone. Is Karim available? Karim Ragab.

Karim Ragab: Uh, hello. My name is Karim. I live by Shaker Square, Larchmere neighborhood.

To be honest, I just heard about participatory budgeting and for the first time; about three weeks ago. In my life, I have not been the best like citizen, you know.

I've been kind of like apathetic toward politics, most of the time. But this kind of excited me, like you know.

Like I feel, like if I was younger and I knew about this--and it was accompanied by like PR, that told people in Cleveland that they have a say.

That they can propose like ideas, to help improve their communities. Like, I really like parks and gardens. So maybe, I would propose to put in more parks.

Or gardens. Uh, develop community. Like it says--self-government up there.

And I feel like, it would be cool for people to be able to have more say and more involvement in their government.

I feel like it could help build community. My work is a teacher in my day job. And I think it'd be cool as a teacher, to do a project where, you know, kids could think about their communities in a critical way.

And like think about problem solving and things that could benefit them and their parents. And their uncles and aunts. And their community.

And then they could, you know, like talk to you guys about it. And write letters. And, you know, maybe it could happen.

They could see their dreams manifest or come to life. And I think that could really make a big difference, in the lives of a lot of people in Cleveland.

Yeah, I think it's a really good idea. So, I'm happy to be here today. Just saying that I really like this idea. And I hope it passes.

And more than passes. I hope that like, like you guys, spread the word about it.

Like pretty strongly, so that people know that they have a say. And like, how this money is spent in the city.

I think that'd be really cool for Cleveland. Thank you.

2:17 Permalink

Jonathan Welle

Blaine Griffin: The next person is Jonathan. And Jonathan is from Ward 3. Jonathan is here to talk about a people's budget.

He's representing people, PB Cleveland. And he is not being paid by anyone. Jonathan.

Jonathan Welle: Thank you, Council President, members of council. On January 6, 2023, Governor Dewine signed House Bill 458; which is a new law, that is designed to make it more difficult for the residents of Cleveland to vote.

It's fitting that this latest attack on democracy happened on January 6th. Exactly two years after rioters waived Confederate flags, as they attacked the Capital in Washington, DC.

Both of these attacks on democracy are wrong. They are a threat. And we must stand up to them.

In Cleveland, we have a chance to do exactly that--through participatory budgeting--or a people's budget. That's why I joined the PB CLE Coalition and now serve as co-coordinator of the campaign.

My work with PB CLE, built off of the work I did in 2012; when I was a Regional Field Director on President Obama's re-election campaign. And my work today with Cleveland Owns--where I build democratically controlled businesses-- co-ops.

Here's another reason I joined PB CLE: A people's budget is a middle finger to Governor Dewine and every Republican who voted for House Bill 458.

It takes our city in a new direction, towards more inclusion. Towards more equity, more voting, more democracy, more trust and more hope.

In a people's budget, residents propose ideas. They turn those ideas into full proposals and then they vote on the proposals that they want to see their city, implement in their neighborhoods.

When you bring a people's budget to your constituents, you may meet people in your ward you haven't met before.

And you will show your power, as someone who enables residents to engage productively with the city.

According to research from 2021, residents in places with a people's budget are more likely to vote in ordinary elections.

This is a new investment in our civic infrastructure, that enhances the existing infrastructure.

And a recent poll by Policy Matters Ohio, showed that 8 in 10 Ohioans, living in cities, support a people's budget.

And I want to be clear, in closing, about what it means to oppose a people's budget.

It means that we are going to fight voter suppression, with one hand behind our back.

It says, we're okay with the status quo-- where 7 in 10 residents, who are registered to vote in the city of Cleveland, and choose not to. Where trust in government is low and where opponents in Columbus--and across the country--are actively attacking democracy.

Opposing a people's budget, means looking residents in the eye and telling them that they don't deserve a vote on how to spend public money.

That's the status quo. It is not okay. A people's budget is a new tool to fight for democracy. It's the tool we need in Cleveland.

We need it urgently. It's not a silver bullet, but it is progress. And PB CLE is here to make that progress, together with you all. And we hope you'll join us. Thank you.

3:15 Permalink

George Hrbek

Blaine Griffin: George Hrbek from Ward 3, to talk about participatory budgeting. Uh, he is not representing anyone. And he is not being paid by anyone. Mr. Hrbek.

George Hrbek: In all due respect, uh, I'm representing the people. The people of this city. And I'm, I've really been rather pleased to see that under the leadership of Mayor Bibb and this, uh, city council that we're on a progressive track for the city.

In order to bring the city more fully into the future, to benefit all of the citizens of our fair city-- this is a, a commitment.

I'm sure that we all have, that we want to include more people in the decision-making processes that impact their lives for better or for worse. Because if we're not, then we're not really being progressive.

So, I think that this participatory budgeting really is in keeping with that commitment on the part of this council. Giving people an opportunity to participate in making decisions that impact their lives for better or for worse.

Therefore, I think it would also increase if we gave them an opportunity. They would realize that they've got a stake in the life of this city. And it would increase their participation in the civic life of the city.

And probably turn a woeful voter turnout into something that's a little bit more respectable. So, I think that we should go ahead and we should pilot this participatory budgeting process.

And discover that, indeed, it does increase people's civic commitment to the life-- and the quality of life--in this city.

So what I hope, we're not afraid of the people. Are we afraid of the people? I don't think you're afraid of the people. And do we really believe, do we really believe that this is a city of the people, and by the people, and for the people?

Do we really believe that this is a city of the people, by the people and for the people? And if so, that we're all going to get behind participatory budgeting.

2:32 Permalink

Ben Stein

Blaine Griffin: Next, we have Ben Stein. Ben Stein is from Ward 6. Ben Stein is here to talk about participatory budgeting. He is not representing anyone and he is not being paid by anyone. Mr Stein.

Ben Stein: This is exciting. Thanks y'all, for letting me talk to you. I know you, you folks from TV. And mailers in my mailbox.

I think with this kind of stuff, maybe we'll get to know each other face to face more. So, hey my name is Ben Stein. I'm a resident of Ward 6, where I live with my wife. And our home on East 124th Street, just off Larchmere Avenue. Larchmere Boulevard.

I serve as an officer of the Larchmere Community Association. And I work for Policy Matters Ohio. As a Ward 6 resident, I'm especially grateful for the work of Council President Griffin--who has done so much for our community--and for the city, as a whole.

I believe that participatory budgeting would allow more of us to do more for ourselves, as well. As an officer of the Larchmere Community Association, I noticed something interesting.

You all probably noticed similar things, when we hold our annual plant sale, which is every Mother's Day weekend. Uh, come out this May. We get 20 or so of our good neighbors to volunteer their time.

When we hold community meetings, we get as many as 50 people to attend. But, when we ask our membership for ideas about how to spend some of our budget, we can expect to hear from everybody.

It just goes to show, nothing activates people like the opportunity to have direct voice and decisions about material resources in their own communities.

When the conversation goes beyond abstractions, like democracy and civic participation, which are things we, we like. But when it gets more specific--when it gets down to brass tax and dollar signs--well, people tune in.

They speak up. Participatory budgeting leverages that tendency to draw people into the decision-making process, where if they feel seen and heard-- they'll feel comfortable.

And they'll engage consistently, which is what our city needs. Whenever I speak to friends, neighbors and colleagues, about civic engagement in Cleveland--or if you listen to any of the folks who've come up here tonight, to talk about it--we discuss troublingly low voter turnout.

And, even the most hotly contested elections. There are a lot of issues that contribute to this problem. Many of which, are beyond this council's ability to control.

But one big step toward overcoming them, would be to draw more people into the process of crafting policy. And working together, to make our city as great as it can be.

As we all know, democracy is an ongoing process. It's a verb. It's something we do together. And it goes well beyond voting.

Participatory budgeting is a concrete, proven practice for getting people involved in the decisions that matter most. And showing them what's at stake.

Please support PB. Please call for Cleveland residents to decide how to spend five million dollars in ARPA funds, through the Civic Participation Fund. Thank you.

2:59 Permalink