Charlottesville is postponing its participatory budgeting pilot program because the city officials in charge of the initiative resigned.
The program was led by former interim Deputy City Manager Leslie Beauregard and City Council’s former community outreach coordinator, Matt Murphy.
Participatory budgeting allows residents to discuss and directly vote on how money is allocated.
Beauregard and Murphy worked with six other staff members and three area residents — Matt Slaats, Serena Gruia and Erin Sabina.
Slaats said that Beauregard and Murphy were “core” staff members for the program.
The council set aside $100,000 in the fiscal 2019 budget to be allocated through the program. Because the program didn’t occur, the money will be presented to the council as part of the year-end surplus in December. At that point, councilors can decide whether to reallocate the funds or carry the money forward into the current year’s budget.
However, because the pilot likely won’t occur in fiscal 2020, which ends June 30, the money would have to be set aside in the next year’s budget.
In October 2018, the council agreed to pay $5,600 to Richmond-based Floricane LLC to develop the process that the community will use to direct the funding. City spokesman Brian Wheeler said that work is complete.
In June, Beauregard told the council that the program’s steering committee decided to focus the pilot on the Ridge Street neighborhood.
She said the area was chosen because the lack of a consistent neighborhood association has made it difficult to build a community within the neighborhood and advocate for needs.
The city planned to allow community members to provide ideas for spending the money starting in August. Final proposals were expected by April.
Wheeler said it’s “worth pointing out” that the city facilitated a community-led budgeting initiative with Unity Days, which was a series of events over the summer focused on bringing the community together after the Unite the Right rally.
Unity Days was given $100,000 and a 19-member committee created events. The initiative was managed similar to a participatory budgeting program, but had a more narrow focus.
Slaats didn’t agree with Wheeler’s characterization.
“I definitely think Unity Days was a way for the city to put forward funding and the community to get support for projects in town,” he said. “Participatory budgeting is a much deeper, broader process. … It’s a longer process where you listen to the people in the neighborhood.”
Although the committee is no longer meeting, Wheeler said that the work has been suspended because of “turnover among key staff and committee members.” However, the committee is only loosely organized and, he said, city staff assumed that Gruia would no longer be involved because she took a job as community engagement specialist with Albemarle County in August.
Gruia didn’t return a call for comment, but Slaats said she’s no longer involved as other community members came on board.
The committee also included eight staff members and Beauregard and Murphy are the only ones to leave the city.
The two were among at least four officials to resign shortly after City Manager Tarron Richardson’s reorganization of Charlottesville’s management structure. Interim Human Resources Director Teresa Vice-Moore and purchasing agent Jennifer Stieffenhofer also resigned.
Delaying the program is important, but only if the city plans to stabilize leadership and return to it, Slaats said.
“The city has a lot of history of making promises and — based on the communtiy’s perspective — not following up,” he said. “We want the community to trust us, So if it takes another year to get the right infrastructure in place, that’s a good decision.”
“It really comes down to does the city really want to do it. And they shouldn’t do it unless they do it right.”