Discretionary infrastucture funds were given out by Mayor Bredesen for each Council member to spend in their districts. This funding turned Councilmembers into mini-Public Works directors as they decided how the money would be spent without regard to public policy or capital planning. As I understand it, this discretionary money was meant to appease those Councilmembers who percieved occaisonal opposition to the Mayor would keep the yellow trucks out of their districts while the pot-holes swallowed cars, pets and children.The money did not go far, but what made it lousy was that giving money to charities can be perceived as political patronage.
Mayor Purcell did not favor the notion that the public's money should be spent without some justification supported by empirical data. His administration spent oodles of time and money on audits, studies and community meetings. In one of the those ironies that characterizes American politics, Mayor Purcell, even with all that data to back him up, was often accused of withholding infrastructure dollars for the less favored. In response, the Council Initiative Funds were born. Each Councilmember gave themselves about $50,000 to spend in their district as they wished. Well, pretty much everyone figured out that $50,000 doesn't go too far when you are talking about installing sidewalks and fixing roads, so the money ended up going to favored charities. Lousy public policy for sure.
And frankly, the council in many cases showed that they were not any better at managing money and responding to actual community needs than those whom they criticized. Case in point: Ludye Wallace sent money--that could have helped keep some programs going at Morgan Park during community center renovations last year--to buy dinner theater tickets for a senior non-profit among other private interests. There are so many other cases. Just click on the 2006-07 Infrastructure Funds label below.