Old - DO NOT USE - The Coast News

Del Mar residents may get say on city services this spring

DEL MAR — Residents will soon have an opportunity, perhaps as early as spring, to provide input on city services.

Council members authorized staff at the Feb. 3 meeting to begin the process for conducting a citizen satisfaction survey, something that hasn’t been done since 2006.

The consensus was that a consultant should be used to survey a random sampling of registered voters by telephone.

There was also agreement that the previous effort did not garner much useful information.

“I think this is an important outreach,” Councilman Don Mosier said. “We really should spend the money to get a professional survey and one that’s done a little better than the 2006 one.

“A lot of the questions and answers were not very helpful,” he said. “I would hate to go out and spend money for a consultant and get that kind of result.

“That was really a feel-good kind of survey,” Mosier added. “It was a very superficial kind of thing. … When you’re doing a survey it’s very important to have some neutral questions that don’t tip off the respondent as to what you want to hear.”

Councilwoman Sherryl Parks said obvious questions, such as why people choose to live in Del Mar, should not be included.

“The focus should be on service that the city provides, both in governance and in what we do to help the residents,” Parks said.

Councilman Al Corti took it one step further, saying people should not be asked how the city is doing, but rather if it is providing the services the community wants so council can set policy and direct staff to improve the services.

Councilman Terry Sinnott agreed. “I would rather find out how our service is being perceived by our residents,” he said. “Are we responsive? Are we complete? Are we accurate? Are we dealing nicely with folks? Do we have good follow up? The kind of definitions you would use for core customer service work.”

Council members were given the option to create and conduct the survey using city staff, a consultant or a research firm such as the National Research Center, which many other U.S. cities have used.

The benefit to using a national company is that Del Mar could be compared to similar-sized cities. But council members didn’t view that as important.

A citizen satisfaction survey was identified as a council priority for the current fiscal year, with $15,000 budgeted for the effort.

“These surveys can be helpful for the council, as well as for staff, to help evaluate the performance of city services and programs, assist in future funding decisions and be used as a management tool,” Andrew Potter, administrative services director, said.

Staff will return at a future meeting with sample questions and the cost for a consultant. The survey should be ready by May or June.

Fearing “survey saturation” with postcard surveys being conducted for the City Hall and Garden Del Mar projects. Mosier said questions should be asked via a telephonic interview.

Sinnott and Corti were appointed as council liaisons for the project.

“I’m very happy this is coming forward,” Sinnott said. “I’ve always felt that this piece of information is one of the missing pieces. We get a lot of financial information. We get a lot of program and project information as to how the city’s doing.

“This is a missing piece that is very, very important,” he added.