Residents can weigh in on city budget via webcam

Boston City Council President Michelle Wu.
Boston City Council President Michelle Wu. (Dina Rudick/Globe Staff)

Can’t make the schlep to City Hall to weigh in on Boston’s school budget? There’s an app for that.

The City Council has launched an experiment to allow residents to testify at budget hearings remotely via video conference. The initiative uses Google Hangouts, a free platform that allows users to chat on web camera.

The first participants: an eighth-grade civics class from the Patrick Lyndon Pilot School in West Roxbury. The class signed up to testify Monday at a council hearing on the Boston public schools budget.

“This experiment is meant to further increase accessibility for the public process,” City Council President Michelle Wu said. “We know it’s often impossible for people to make it to testify in person.”


This week, the council embarked on its review of Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s proposed budget, a process that will include roughly 40 hearings over the next few months. The school budget has been a particular point of controversy since Superintendent Tommy Chang announced in January that the district faced a shortfall that could climb as high as $50 million.

The Globe reported last month that the spending plan approved by the School Committee was ultimately balanced by cutting $32 million and delaying $6 million in new initiatives while awaiting additional state and federal money.

To testify at budget hearings via video on Google Hangouts, participants must have a Gmail address, which is free. They will also need a working microphone and video camera on their computer or smartphone.

Residents must sign up online to testify by going to Participants will be notified via e-mail if they are one of 10 speakers who have been selected to provide video testimony. As with in-person testimony, remarks will be limited to three minutes.

“If it works well, we’ll be able to hopefully DO MORE SO other people who can’t make it to City Hall can submit comments on the budget,” said City Councilor Mark Ciommo, who has led the council’s Ways and Means Committee for eight years. “However we can increase participation, that’s what we’re looking to do.”

This year, the City Council is also holding its first budget meetings outside City Hall. On Wednesday night, roughly 60 residents and city staff discussed the spending plan for the Department of Neighborhood Development at a community center in Allston. In May, the council plans to host a Parks & Recreation Department budget hearing at the Mildred Avenue Community Center in Mattapan.


Andrew Ryan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan.