Commissioner Chris Harris thinks Forest Park can learn a lot about participatory democracy from some Chicago aldermen.

Inspired by 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore, Harris is asking for public input on the Public Property Department budget. He will hold an open/participatory budget workshop at the Forest Park Public Library on April 23 at 7 p.m. on the main floor.

In 2012, more than 1,000 residents of Moore’s ward cast votes prioritizing six public improvement projects, such as embankment and streetlight repairs and street resurfacing. Moore will present these to the City Council for approval although he says on his website that he makes no guarantees.

“All the projects listed on the ballot are feasible, but most require final approval from the City of Chicago or its sister agencies,” the website told Moore’s constituents.

Also in Chicago, 5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston recently took up participatory budgeting in her ward.

Harris wants to do something similar with the public property budget.

“I am posting the line-item worksheets to my Facebook page and to the Forest Park Town Hall FB page for review prior to the session,” he said.

Harris said he’ll give a brief synopsis of the budget and talk about any projects planned for the 2014 fiscal year.

Line items will include playground maintenance and improvements, the dog park, parking lot repairs/improvements and changes/improvements to all public buildings.

Harris will take suggestions, discuss and if an idea “rises to the top we will discuss how we can make that happen and have it added as a project for FY14,” Harris wrote.

“I will then ask for any questions about line items. A typical question may be: ‘Why are we spending X amount of dollars on contract services?'” Harris said.

“If the public thinks that is money not well spent, then I can alter that number, bring it to the budget meeting and express to the council that the will of the people is to cut back this service. I will stand behind a majority that has reason to believe we may be wasting money,” Harris added.

“We don’t have the opportunity to have $1 million in discretionary funds, as they are given to an alderman in Chicago, but I love this concept and want to find it a way to make it as interactive as possible. This is the residents money, they deserve a say in how it’s spent,” Harris said.

“I have fought for two years at our budget meetings to trim the fat by rethinking the way we do things, we will see if that is echoed by the residents.”

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...

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