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“Celebrate! West Hartford,” Democracy and Budgets

Posted by whforums on June 16, 2008

Checked out “Celebrate” this weekend and I was struck by the non-profit booths — how the “Yes” people were directly beside the “No” people and also directly beside the registrar of voters. It was really a nice metaphor for our democracy — citizens hawking lawn signs and information about their causes — but situated in such a way, beside the registrar, that they were no more important than the idea of democracy itself — the spirit of democracy. My concern, though, is that our local democracy doesn’t expand much beyond that metaphor or spirit — that as citizens (and citizen-councilpeople) we’re fundamentally not talking to one another, listening to one another, or engaging and examining each other’s ideas in any sort of meaningful way (that all is spam and noise, and the other side of the argument inadmissible). I might be describing my own limited experience, but our conversations too often don’t seem to go much beyond our lawns.

But I also was left with a more grounded, lingering question — who on earth pays for “Celebrate! West Hartford”? I assumed it was paid for by sponsors, but to what degree? How much does the town kick in? So I did some poking around and found this report (it’s a PDF — only click if you want to download it!) from Leisure Services in 2006 that says on page 44 (emphasis mine):

“This event has usually generated a profit. This is largely due to the fact that the majority of the revenue is received in advance of the weekend, in the form of sponsorships from local businesses and individuals, and expenses are budgeted according to the available funds. Since it is an outdoor event, there is a relationship between the weather and attendance. As attendance increases, so does the profit …”

Budgeting expenses according to available funds and still having money left over? This seems startlingly reasonable. And while I think it’s difficult — if not impossible — for a local government to do this in an era of widespread inflation, I would also appreciate a more transparent, line-item budget (if there is one, please, someone link me there) that would allow those critical of our current tax situation to argue for real cuts. This type of conversation might even help make more real that visible metaphor from “Celebrate!” — “Yes” and “No” speaking beyond rhetoric and ideology in a critical dialog that reflects the best interests of this place and time we share.

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