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Former 'Occupier' Wants To Bring Participatory Budgeting To 6th Ward

Chris McDaniel, St. Louis Public Radio

About 20 people gathered outside of a foreclosed house in south St. Louis City. They assembled to decide what should be done with the house that the bank currently owns. A few of the ideas floated around were to hold a public auction, open it up for veterans to use, or to host afterschool programs.

After all the ideas were discussed, each participant was given a ticket to put in a box that belonged to their favorite corresponding idea.

It was a mock demonstration, put on by St. Louis Aldermanic candidate Michelle Witthaus. But she's hoping that in a few months she'll be able to do it for real, in the 6th Ward. If she's elected, of course.

Participatory budgeting is a method that started in Chicago, and has spread to parts of New York and California. What it does is give the public the ability to vote on how a municipal budget is spent.

“My hope in bringing it to the 6th Ward, is definitely to get more of the community involved in the process," Witthaus said. "I think right now we have a lot of people disenfranchised with the current system and don’t feel like their voice is heard.”

Witthaus is a former school teacher and helped organize “Occupy St. Louis.” She says that movement made her want to run.

“There was a big sharing of knowledge out of the Occupy movement, and that is really what propelled me to run," Witthaus said. "When this position opened, I thought this is a great chance to see someone different in office who has new ideas.”

Witthaus is running against Christine Ingrassia and Damon Jones, the son of former state senator Robin Wright-Jones in the Democratic primary. That election will take place on March 5.

Follow Chris McDaniel on Twitter@csmcdaniel