With the ongoing racial tension sweeping across the nation and calls for police reform in almost every major U.S. city, there was an emotional debate last week in the City Council over Mayor Martin Walsh’s proposed City Budget – particularly the operations portion that held funding for public safety.
Since the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, big city Mayors like Walsh have heard the calls to restructure police budgets loud and clear.
Walsh proposed to reallocate $12 million in Boston Police overtime funds to invest in social equity and inclusion programs in Boston.
The Mayor’s proposed operations budget passed by a slim margin in an 8-5 vote after some councilors argued the cuts to police spending did not go far enough. The Eduation Budget passed with only two ‘no’ votes, and the Capital Budget passed unanimously.
In a surprise move, City Councilor Lydia Edwards broke ranks with uber progressives on the Council and voted to adopt Mayor Walsh’s budget.
Edwards joined Councilors Frank Baker, Kenzie Bok, Liz Breadon, Annissa Essaibi-George, Michael Flaherty, Ed Flynn and Matt O’Malley in voting to pass the budget.
City Council President Kim Janey and Councilors Ricardo Arroyo, Andrea Campbell, Julia Mejia and Michelle Wu all voted against the budget.
“Over the past few weeks, I have received an extraordinary amount of calls and emails from my constituents about this vote,” said Edwards. “I want everyone that took the time to write or call to know that I really appreciate you letting me know your thoughts. Civic engagement and participation are key to a successful democracy and listening to people’s concerns is a responsibility that I take seriously as an elected official.”
Edwards said Both the COVID -19 pandemic and the protests after the murder of Floyd have made it clear there is a need for structural change.
“While I would like to see a different allocation of resources than what’s in the proposed budget, I don’t believe that voting ‘no’ on this year’s budget is going to bring about the systemic change we need at this time,” she said. “The potential consequences of denying this budget are too great for me to risk. I have received many calls from constituents concerned about losing their jobs or parts of their salary if the budget isn’t approved. Those are concerns that have weighed heavily on me as I make this decision.”
Edwards said she also received many calls from constituents concerned that the current budget proposal does not reflect the values they’d like to see the city invest in.
“These concerns have been on my mind as well,” said Edwards. “As I’ve thought about this vote, I’ve also thought about how I can answer these calls for change, justice, and investment in our future.”
Edwards said this year she will pass or complete an agenda in the Council that includes charter reform language that structurally changes how the city allocates funds and changes budgetary powers as a city council.
She also plans to introduce a zoning amendment that incorporates civil rights into zoning and requires developers to integrate communities and end neighborhood patterns of segregation. This would include reforming the Zoning Board of Appeals by adding environmental and urban planners to the board and changing the standard for granting a variance.
Edwards also called for structurally changing how the city keeps people safe by passing an ordinance creating a fourth level of first response for nonemergency and nonviolent concerns as well as protecting civil liberties by banning facial recognition surveillance.
Edwards also called on making sweeping changes to the overtime contract for Boston Police.
“The above efforts require real work, collaboration, and conversation. It is about more than one vote, it is several votes, plus lobbying, researching, negotiating, and grassroots organizing,” said Edwards. “The fact is the easiest thing I could do is vote ‘no’ on the budget. But I didn’t take this job for the easy, temporary victories. I’m in it for the long haul. That is systemic. I am voting for the budget and pushing for real change right now. I can tell you what my ‘yes’ vote will bring for my district and policy. I’m still waiting to know what the ‘no’ vote will do for either. I can’t say to any worker that they were worth the sacrifice, even temporarily, for an undefined goal with an undefined timeline.”
While she said she knows that a lot of people are frustrated by the fact that the budget doesn’t answer the cry for systemic change, the system doesn’t allow for that kind of change or even conversation.
“If you are really tired of false choices between workers and an ok budget, join me in reforming the system,” she said. “I’d rather break the wheel through charter reform than pretend that voting ‘no’ does anything but continue the systemic false choice by working within the system.”
In Mayor Walsh’s budget the reallocated Boston Police overtime funds will fund the following:
•$3 million for the BPHC to begin implementing the eight strategies he outlined in his declaration
•$1 million to support trauma teams and counseling services at the BPHC
•$2 million in new funding for community-based programs, such as violence intervention grants, youth programming, language and food access, Immigrant Advancement, the Age Strong Commission and the Human Rights Commission
•$2 million for additional public mental health services through a partnership between the Boston Police Department and Boston Medical Center Emergency Services Program or BEST
•$2 million to support economic development initiatives to support minority and women owned businesses
•$2 million to provide additional housing supports and youth homelessness programs.