According to a report from the good folks at Philly Clout, several members of City Council are huddled behind closed doors, discussing public input during the upcoming budget process. Reporters have been barred from the meeting, but that doesn't mean we don't have ideas. Here are a couple of quick suggestions for how to make the budget process better.
Put the public input first. During the last round of hearings, people were only allowed to testify at the end, after all of the department heads and members of the Nutter Administration. By the end of the process, most City Council members and the media were tried of hearing budget testimony. That might change because of the fiscal crisis, but putting public testimony first is a good way to make sure it gets the attention it deserves.
Allow public testimony throughout. Another idea is to allow public input throughout the budget process, instead of just one hearing. Wouldn't it make more sense to allow someone to testify about L&I at the same time as the commissioner of the department? That would allow members of City Council to directly address the concerns of the public throughout. It would also make the information easier to process, instead of lumping everything together at the end or beginning.
Schedule some hearings at night. In the past, all of the hearings have been held during normal business hours. That should change. Holding hearings at night will allow a broader group of people testify and watch the hearings. It will mean late nights for City Council members and their staffers, but the Mayor's staff has already sacrificed their evenings for the public forums. City Council should follow suit.
Have hearings in other parts of the city. Not everyone can come to City Hall, so City Hall should come to them. It would be great to have a library hearing in an actual library. It would allow people to understand the importance of public facilities and also help focus the discussion. Too often, City Council lives in it's own bubble. Getting out into the neighborhoods would be a good start to changing that.