UPDATE--Answering the call to be a Neighborhood Budget Advocate is not for the faint hearted. Recently the budget advocates met with Mayor Garcetti to discuss the White Paper, (research, recommendations for fiscal responsibility of city departments and offer alternative options for revenue generation), and of that group attendance more than 10 are new to budget advocacy. Who would be attracted to what some call a complicated game of find the money molly?
We asked Amy Foell – Los Feliz Neighborhood Council, Ivette Ale – Voices of 37 Neighborhood Council and Brigette Kidd – Zapata-King Neighborhood Council three new budget advocates the following questions;
What interested you in the role of the neighborhood council budget advocate?
Amy Foell: I decided to educate and empower myself and my community through public service. It’s important to understand how our tax dollars are being utilized. Many Los Angelenos are not aware of how City Hall is spending our money collected from taxes.
Ivette Ale: As the Treasurer and new member of my neighborhood council, I was seeking opportunities to learn more about the City budget and ways I can better serve. I attended Budget Day and I learned that Budget Advocates was a body that had a "seat at the table" in city government and to amplify the voices of stakeholders in my district.
Brigette Kidd: My initial goal for running for a seat on the Zapata-King Neighborhood Council was to find out how I could get trees trimmed in the area that overshadowed light poles and stop signs which was safety issue; and also made some locations easy for tagging. I knew it wasn’t where you lived, but how you lived that could make a difference.
Budget advocates play an important role by providing recommendations to how the City can run more efficiently, what was your role in the White Paper that was presented to the Mayor on March 8, 2017? What did you learn?
Amy Foell: I researched assigned departments, interviewed department heads and co-wrote sections of the White Paper. I covered the Economic & Workforce Development Department as well as the Department on Disability. Each department has their own personality and level of openness towards BA’s objectives. I believe our City can bring in much more revenue by harnessing solar power and other sustainable practices.
Ivette Ale: As the chair of the Cultural Affairs Committee, I organized a discussion with department leadership and drafted the subsequent recommendations for the Cultural Affairs Department. I learned that there are issues that span across several departments. For instance, access to the City's internet backbone and standardizing technology is a consistent problem across the board, for example the Cultural Affairs Department lack of tech support prevents the department from capturing revenue and maximizing use of facilities.
Brigette Kidd: I chaired the Information Technology Committee. As Ivette mentioned technology is a major problem. The ITA is making some strides with the creation of the 311 app, but inefficiencies are from lack of communication from one department to another and that each department has different technology goals. The major road block is unifying departmental goals to create an intuitive, reliable and easy to update technology system that protects critical assets (water, utilities, sewage), and communicate across all departments while providing transparency and clear costs to tax payers.
Why is it beneficial for others to get involved as a budget advocate or budget representative for their NC/area?
Amy Foell: It would be great if every citizen had to take a turn as a budget advocate for LA. I would wager the positives would offset the negatives. Folks would gain a greater understanding of the various departments, monies allocated and spent. Amazing ideas and solutions would develop and voter turn-out would dramatically increase. This utopian vision may be a stretch goal, but a woman can dream. Just over a year ago today I was completely unaware of neighborhood councils and budget advocates. Today I’m a District B representative for Los Feliz neighborhood Council, co-chair of the environmental affairs committee, and a budget advocate. The learning curve is steep but anyone can do this because we all care about our home.
Ivette Ale: Looking around the room at a budget advocate's meeting, it is evident that there are gaps in community representation. Becoming actively involved in budget advocates provides an avenue to legitimize, vocalize and amplify the concerns of our areas. But regardless of political background and identity, at the heart of budget advocates is a desire for transparency and accountability. It is an underutilized body with the potential to be transformative with increased, diversity and participation.
Brigette Kidd: Learning how to challenge effectively. As a budget advocate you can challenge budget issues with research and facts. Get involved because you are either adding, subtracting multiplying or dividing.
If you are interested in getting involved in your local neighborhood council or becoming a budget advocate check out Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate Responsibilities.
(Adrienne Edwards and Brigette Kidd are Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates. More info at ncbala.com.)