Just who will benefit from Citizen Satisfaction Survey?

The Encinitas City Council recently approved an agenda item to spend up to $66,000 for three Citizens Satisfaction Surveys to run through 2016 with the first survey to cost $20,000.It’s ironic that in approving the “Citizen Satisfaction Surveys,” the council disregarded suggestions of concerned citizens who spoke on the issue. It makes me think the survey is more about politics and less about the citizens.

Residents were concerned the surveys could become political tools benefiting incumbents seeking re-election. Council member James Bond, un-elected council member Mark Muir and Mayor Jerome Stocks are incumbents with expiring terms.

Resident Sandy Shapiro suggested the surveys be done in non-election years so “It doesn’t look like the people running for election are doing it.” He has a point. If the survey is done this summer, the results could be published in September just about the time absentee ballots are sent out.

A positive survey garners good press favoring incumbents like Stocks, Muir and Bond just ahead of the election. The council could have voted to start the survey after the election but didn’t. Is this survey about re-election campaigns?

I am skeptical of these surveys because the city staff designs the questions. If the council were not involved with the survey they wouldn’t need to approve the contract.

If city staff influences the survey questions going out, they control the results coming in. Everything can be made to look rosy if the tough questions go unasked.

Soft-ball questions like: “Are you satisfied with emergency services?” are likely to get a favorable response because most people, fortunately, never need emergency services and don’t know response times have gone up.

Hard questions like, “Are you satisfied you can’t use the Hall Park after 11 years?” “Are you satisfied the city is millions behind in road repairs?” or “Are you satisfied the council voted to increase public union pensions and salaries?” are likely to get a negative response. Which questions do you think the city will ask?

Resident David Smith said the surveys were using taxpayer money like a political action committee to the benefit of incumbents. He has a point.

There is no denying the council controls the purse strings, and are using taxpayer money for the survey. Muir called Smith’s comment “silly.”

But by not making a motion to perform the surveys in non-election years, Muir validates Smith’s point and raises the question: Are council members like Muir, Stocks and Bond, who are seeking re-election, using our tax dollars on a survey to benefit themselves?

Resident Olivier Canler said, “We would better off having town council meetings.”

What a great idea. By doing the surveys at town council meetings taxpayers would save money. Town council meetings also increase the likelihood that people participating know about current city issues, something random polling might not ensure.

Resident Marilyn Ambrose said, “We don’t have money for a lot of things,” suggesting the money be spent elsewhere. This is an excellent point. $66,000 is a large sum of money. This money could help pay for the dog park, skate park, tot-lot, or ball-fields at the under-funded Hall Park project.

The money could go to pay for an appraisal of the Pacific View site to see if taxpayers could buy the land at a steep discount under the Naylor Act; or to improving our roads, or services for seniors.

Money that could benefit taxpayers looks like it is going to benefit election year incumbents.

If the council won’t heed the suggestions of citizens speaking at city hall, then is the citizens satisfaction survey just election-year window dressing?


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