Let the guy with the calculator decide?

Syracuse Common Council meeting of the DPW committee 5-7-19

At the D.P.W. committee meeting at Common Council today, the discussion was on road paving (and thanks to our group–a bit on curbs/crosswalks.) There was a relatively short discussion on the need to ensure that there is sufficient public participation in the discussion before the Council as a way
to set priorities for spending an admittedly limited budget. Everyone wants their streets paved, the money is only there for a fraction of the need.

A small snippet of this conversation really intrigued me. It started with Councilor Joe Driscoll stating that it was healthy to ensure more public participation and would help the city make their final decisions. (Apparently Joe has made up with the “seven curmudgeons who attend evey meeting” that he complained about during a recent TV appearance.)

The chair of the committee, Councilor Michael Greene, agreed with Driscoll–but THEN went on to state that he was hoping that a day would come when the city engineers and D.P.W. officials did such a good job analyzing the condition of all the city’s streets, that public participation would not be necessary.

Councilor Greene pointed out that policy wonk-driven analysis would result in a dispassionate result–whereas public input on street paving (and presumably other issues where the city divvys up public funds) often favors those neighborhoods with more political clout and greater ability to come out and push for their position at public meetings. Neighborhoods with less clout and lower levels of public participation may receive less than their fair share.

This has been the dream of “good government” groups and reformers since the beginnings of our nation. As I come from the community organizing school of thought rather than the reformist side (think Alinsky rather than LaFollette), I wish Councilor Greene well and hope he is correct. However, I will spend my time organizing our folks to gain power and influence the agenda directly.

Dispassionate numbers do not always stay dispassionate when controlled by the mere mortals called government officials. Dispassionate numbers also only reflect the immediate present–they do not account for past oppression and neglect. Joe Driscoll started to make that point today. He asked how we would balance the needs of a traditionally neglected neighborhood with MANY roads to repair against those of a wealthier neighborhood with a more severely damaged road.

Our disability community may also point out that accessibility problems trap our people and keeps us from home, school, doctor and other needs. However, an accessibility repair may not be considered as serious a problem as a traditional road repair. We may be left out in the cold.

.Exploited and marginalized communities can’t afford to wait around and hope. We have to go to meetings, make our demands, yell and scream. We cannot, as Gandhi once said, “dream of systems so perfect, no one has to be good.”

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