When Kenzie Bok was sworn in for her first term as District 8 City Councilor on Jan. 5, she never could have imagined what the following six months would have in store for her.
Bok, who was named chair of the city’s Ways and Means Committee, soon found herself charged with managing the city’s budget for the first time – a daunting task even under the best of circumstances – while navigating the consequences of an unforeseen pandemic and amid growing tension between the public and law enforcement.
“It was a very challenging process because first, we had to deal with declining revenues because of the pandemic,” Councilor Bok said, “and as the pandemic wore on, the situation around the budget grew darker.”
Councilor Bok rose to the challenge, however, by overseeing the city’s first-ever remote budgeting process, which included “behind-the-scenes staff clinics and working sessions” for her fellow councilors that allowed them to make inquiries of the city’s various departments on what they planned to spend requested monies on.
Also, the city was able to take more public testimony than ever before via virtual meetings.
And just last week after the city finalized its budget for next fiscal year, Councilor Bok filed for a public hearing to discuss the merits of participatory budgeting and zero-base budgeting.
Unlike participatory budgeting where the public is allowed to provide input during the process, and which looks at the current budget as it pertains to last year’s budget, zero-base budgeting follows an example set by the federal government in which a smaller group of stakeholders would take a clean-slate approach in examining the current city budget.
“We’re implementing it going forward to build on the good job this year in making the traditional budget process more inclusive and transparent,” Councilor Bok said, “but we could still do more to open up the budget process.”
This new approach proposed by Councilor Bok, along with her other fellow first-term councilors – Julia Mejia, Liz Breadon, and Richard Arroyo – would allow community organizations that came before the committee during the budget cycle to testify again about their proposals for new programs.
Councilor Bok also commended Mayor Martin Walsh for taking the community’s opinion to heart with his decision to reallocate $12 million from the Boston Police Department’s overtime budget to instead support other causes, such as affordable housing, public health and food access.
And while this change came after contracts with Boston Police unions expired on June 30, Councilor Bok believes it will set an important precedent moving forward.
“The commitment I made is to do everything I can to keep us on that path in the year ahead because the structure of our police contract made it functionally impossible to achieve bigger allocations in this year’s budget,” she said, “but we plan to renegotiate the police contract in a way that we can achieve reprioritization in next year’s budget to a greater degree.”
Besides managing the city’s budget, which included chairing around 50 related hearings and working sessions, Councilor Bok has still found time to help deliver more than 3,000 boxes of food to the undernourished in her district and led volunteers who made more than 3,000 well-being calls to area seniors. Now, she also looks forward to writing new policy proposals.
“I’m particularly excited to support Councilor [Lydia] Edwards in her fair-housing zoning amendment,” Councilor Bok added.