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Saturday, October 15, 2011

City Commission and the Survey Round One: What we have here is a failure to communicate.

At the last City Commission meeting on October 12th,despite an overloaded agenda, an hour of time was blocked off  to hear  half hour presentations of from Cobalt Community Research and Mitchell Research and Communications. In both cases the plug was pulled before the midway point of either presentation. There was a back to back  total disconnect between presenter and the city commission. It would be an exaggeration to say  that  a commissioner  was obligated to stand on a chair, put two fingers in the  mouth and blow like Gabriel.  Hand waving and raised voices were however, required to prevent the further clicking of Power Point presentations. Fans of the electric bill will be happy to know that no actual plugs were pulled.

It seems both survey firms (Cobalt is a non profit and Mitchell is a national company) planned on using  a small specifically defined sample to determine the opinion of the whole population. The City Commissioners said they wanted all residents surveyed. Cobalt said they could do so but that would raise the price from $3,000 to $5,000. Mitchell could survey all as well  but it didn't seem thrilled by the idea or did not  necessarily see the need.  The meeting was televised  by Bloomfield Cable Television (BCTV). It should be available on the city's website in a couple of weeks and  we will alert you as to the start and stop points so you may see this segment for yourself. It  should be watched very carefully.

Commissioner Sarah McClure said the point of the survey was "to help us (city commission) answer more controversial issues. Like should we move elections from May to November or have one city wide trash hauling company."

These were not  casual "for instances"  and commissioner McClure knows that or should. The residents of the City don't consider the topics mentioned as particularly controversial and most probably believe they have been resolved. In 2009  at a special town hall meeting residents stated a definite  preference for the multiple trash haulers. A change in election date changes much more than date and would require a city wide vote to amend the city charter. In 2010 at a public hearing residents stated  a  strong desire for keeping the election dates the same. The mention of such relics which even in their day weren't exactly "controversies" may presage a resurrection of these topics as agenda items.
Mitchell Research does more than survey and is not shy about full scale advocacy. In their abbreviated presentation they mentioned one city that kept voting for multiple trash haulers.Then Mitchell  Research came on board and  the proper positioning of a "single trash hauler" and the subsequent  election victory,  were given as example of the benefits Mitchell Research can provide  to a municipality. On their website Mitchell boasts....

Campaigns are tough. There is never enough money and the deadline is always yesterday. That’s often when we get the call to turn things around and get the campaign back on a winning track. And, that’s when we’re at our best. For example, we helped pass a $500 million bonding proposal to build a garbage burning incinerator in Oakland County, Michigan, one of the wealthiest counties in the country. Our victory was the first time in 38 attempts around the United States that anyone had ever been able to get voters to approve a this type of incinerator. Our company drafted and implemented the plan, conducted all the polling, did the print and electronic advertising, and led the campaign to victory. We won for the same reasons our clients always hire us: we had a well thought out, research driven strategy; hard-hitting advertising, and just plain hard work!

So we may ask the question is the City Commission seeking to get our opinion or to convince us of theirs?

When the Mitchell  presentation was broomed  (probably because they insisted a small sample sizing was more accurate, and that phone calls were the contact medium of choice) they pointed the finger at City Manager Jay Cravens and said,"You told us you wanted our most accurate survey." Mr. Cravens did not deny that. "Well the one we brought has an 95% accuracy rating ," the survey company offered as a parting shot.

How does one define accuracy ? It is interpreting what we the people think? Or is it making us think something  someone else  wants us to think ?

Mayor Zambricki  said the point of the survey was to identify priorities, to provide cost benefit analysis, and to give performance feed back, that  would  help the City Commission determine what to do now and in the future to improve the city.

If  true that is  simple enough and complicated only when the Commission doubts it's own ability or the intelligence of  its constituents. Recently resident Robert Toohey wrote a letter about the up coming  library millage election. In it he identifies priorities, does cost vs benefit analysis and tells people what to do and how they can benefit. The cost for this double sided letter to all city residents ? $1100 to $1500. That is a third or half what the city has been quoted for the cheapest partial sample survey. Toohey  as a former head of the City's planning commission conducted the most elaborate and successful  resident survey in city history for the City's master plan. See the  July 18th post.

Furthermore  City Commission should be ashamed of themselves for going to outsiders determine the pulse of the city in which they live. That information is readily available from the residents who are not reticent . Survey companies say that such information is not always  accurate  and that people tell you what you want to here. There is  truth in that statement. Just as there is truth in the statement that the survey companies tell survey  seekers that to get their business. PT Barnum said there was sucker born every minute and that wisdom has never been refuted.

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