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New Policy Guides City of Oakland’s Budget Process

Case Story

Community: City of Oakland

Population: 395,817

Summary

The City of Oakland has demonstrated its commitment to institutionalizing public engagement by adopting a resolution that establishes clear rules for enhancing public participation and transparency in its budgeting process. The policy seeks to improve local government’s effectiveness by enlisting the problem-solving capacities of the general public and organizations outside local government.

Program Highlights

The resolution:

  • Creates a timeline and content goals, including the creation of a biannual budget workshop where the mayor and council can discuss budget priorities for the next fiscal year.
  • Directs the city administration and council to “hold at least three community budget forums at various times in different neighborhoods away from city hall.”
  • Calls for a statistically valid survey (“prior to budget adoption”) to assess public concerns, needs and priorities.
  • Requires the city administration to create an email address, a phone number with voicemail service and a web-based public engagement platform to collect resident input prior to budget development.
  • Stipulates that any new proposals must be made at least three days before the meeting in which the budget will be adopted

The Rest of the Story

The Oakland City Council adopted new rules (Resolution #84385) on May 21, 2013, that are designed to improve the transparency of the city’s budget approval process. The council’s action resulted from the 2012 budgeting process in which amendments were made during the final budget meeting, thus preventing public feedback. Under the new regulations, proposals must be made at least three days before the meeting in which the budget will be adopted.

As part of city’s efforts to continually improve public participation in the budget process, the resolution requires the administration, city council and Budget Advisory Committee to consider:

  • Inclusive design
  • Authentic intent
  • Transparency
  • Inclusiveness and equity
  • Informed and accessible participation
  • Appropriate process
  • Use of information
  • Relationship-building and community capacity
  • Evaluation

The “Whereas” section of the resolution states, “Public participation and collaboration may enhance local government’s effectiveness, expand its range of options, improve the quality of its decisions and enlist the problem-solving capacities of the general public and organizations outside local government.”

As described in the “Further Resolved” section, the new policy’s purpose is “to ensure that the public has access to and an ability to participate in the creation of the City of Oakland’s biannual budget and that Oakland decision-makers have the public feedback to allow them to prudently manage the city’s fiscal resources and adopt a budget responsive to public needs and priorities.”

A description of the new policy’s major elements appears below. To view the resolution’s complete language, see the link at the end of this article.

Mayor and Council Budget Workshop

The resolution creates a timeline and content goals for a biannual budget workshop where the mayor and city council will begin discussing priorities for the next fiscal year. It also calls for the city administrator to prepare a five-year forecast by each budget cycle. The workshop will be held in the late fall preceding the year in which a budget is adopted. The five-year forecast must be produced by Feb. 1 and at least 10 days before the matter is heard by a council body.

Community Budget Forums

The resolution also directs the city administration and council to “hold at least three community budget forums at various times in different neighborhoods away from City Hall.” The City Administrator’s Office will organize and schedule the  forums to maximize residents’ access.

The forums must allow sufficient time for a question-and-answer period and for city staff to present budget facts. The resolution also calls upon city council members to make their best effort to attend at least one of these meetings.

One or more of these meetings must be conducted in the evening and another on the weekend. The city will provide translators when requested with 48 hours advance notice, per Oakland’s Equal Access Ordinance. Forum materials must include a “sufficient number” of budget fact sheets “in all available languages.”  The city administrator must summarize the community budget forum process in an informational report to be heard by the city council at its next budget discussion following the final community forum.

Survey of Public Needs and Priorities

The resolution also calls for a statistically valid survey prior to budget adoption to assess public concerns, needs and priorities. The survey should be administered “whenever feasible” to “a statistically relevant and valid sample of residents that is representative of Oakland’s population in terms of race, income, neighborhood, age, profession, family size, home ownership/rentership, etc.”

The resolution also states that if the city cannot afford a professional survey, an informal survey should be made available for broad dissemination by the mayor and council members through community list serves and other community channels. A list of these channels, along with the survey results, must also be made available to the public.

Steps to Encourage Public Participation

The resolution directs the city administration to create an email address, a phone number with voicemail service and a web-based engagement platform to collect resident input prior to budget development. In addition, the resolution suggests a range of steps for the city administrator to take in promoting public participation in the budget process.

Statement of Council Member Priorities

City council members will have the opportunity to advise the mayor and city administrator publicly of their priorities. Each council member should be invited to submit up to seven expenditure priorities in ranked and weighted order for changes to the baseline budget as presented in the five-year forecast.

Process Feedback and Continued Improvement

The resolution states that the city’s Budget Advisory Commission shall be requested to submit an informational report to the city council’s Finance and Management Committee. This report must present the commission’s analysis of the budget adoption process, including:

  • The city administration’s and the city council’s diligence in engaging the public, and its impact on the budget process and the product.
  • Information on the level of transparency and open dialogue in all public meetings dedicated to the budget.
  • Opportunities for improving the process in future years.

Additional Resources

Oakland city clerk’s website

Budget Process Transparency Ordinance

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