“Survey Says…”


Any day now 1,200 “randomly selected” Park Ridge residents should be receiving the City of Park Ridge’s newest survey which, as recently reported by the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“City to ask: What do you think?” Dec. 20, 2007), will ask residents to rate things about Park Ridge like shopping opportunities, air quality, snow removal, taxes, the quality of city services, garbage collection, ease of travel within the city, access to affordable housing, childcare and health care.  

Deputy City Manager Juliana Maller claims that the survey results “will help the city plan programming, set goals, determine projects to budget for, and measure performance.” 

We here at Public Watchdog have always supported citizen input on significant policy or spending issues through binding or advisory referenda.  We have always been skeptical, however, about “government by survey,” especially when the way the questions are framed influences the answers; and where there is no attempt by the surveyor to ensure that the respondents have any real knowledge of the subject matter of the questions.

Our skepticism is heightened in this case by the fact that this particular survey, sold under the trademark “National Citizen Survey,” was developed by the National Research Center, Inc. (“NRCI”) in partnership with the International City/County Management Association (“ICMA”) – an organization that effectively serves as a trade association for uber-bureaucrats who hold top appointed positions in their respective local governments.  

A quick check of the ICMA’s website reveals that one of its significant activities is bestowing self-serving awards and recognition, mainly on ICMA members and even retired members.  It’s not surprising, therefore, to read on the NRCI website that the National Citizen Survey also is award oriented, providing its local government customers with “entry to win top honors for Voice of the People Awards.” 

We have heard that in addition to the survey’s generic cookie-cutter questions, there will be three specialized Park Ridge questions originally suggested by the City and re-formulated by NRCI to make them more “meaningful”: 

1.         Please rate the quality of each of the following:
Traffic calming efforts             (excellent, good, fair, poor)
Pedestrian safety measures  (excellent, good, fair, poor) 

2.         Please rate the level of fairness with which Park Ridge Police Department services are provided to all community members. (excellent, good, fair, poor) 

3.         To what degree would you support or oppose the creation of a Historic Preservation Ordinance to protect historically and/or architecturally significant buildings and residences in Park Ridge. (strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, strongly oppose) 

We wonder how many survey recipients will read “traffic calming efforts” and think Xanax instead of speed bumps?  Will the survey explain all of the various “traffic calming efforts” Park Ridge already employs, so that the recipients will actually be answering in an informed manner? (We doubt it)  As for “pedestrian safety measures,” we can’t think of any.  Will the survey list them, so those surveyed will actually know what they are being asked? 

We also wonder what kind of “fairness” the second question is talking about?  Have there been any accusations that our police are tougher on 3rd Ward residents than on 5th Warders; or that they are more likely to ticket a speeding 55-year old Samoan former NFL defensive linemen in a silver 2006 Escalade than a speeding 39-year red-haired Caucasian female real estate broker driving a blue Volvo? 

And while we support protecting “historically and/or architecturally significant buildings and residences in Park Ridge,” our level of enthusiasm would certainly depend on exactly how the “Historic Preservation Ordinance” in question went about doing its job – and how much it will cost the taxpayers. 

Speaking of costing the taxpayers, the H-A article reported that the survey will cost $9,000 for the basic cookie-cutter questions, and $1,350 more because the City is splurging on an “open-ended” question:

The City of Park Ridge Police Facilities have been determined to be inadequate to meet the needs of the department and the community.  Given that something must be done, please tell us what top 3 issues or concerns are most important to address in considering how to change the Police Facilities. 

Besides the factually dubious major premise of this question – that the current police station is not meeting the needs of the community notwithstanding our downward-trending crime rate and the police department’s steady stream of awards – the potential responses are so many and varied that we suspect they will be easy to manipulate through “interpretation” by NRCI. 

To reduce that possibility, we encourage survey respondents to consider the following as their “top 3 issues or concerns” about how to change the current cop shop: 

“What feature(s) can be built into a new police station that will enable our police to predict and prevent the rare early morning gangland-style slayings of Park Ridge residents by ski mask-wearing gunmen?”  

“How many more awards can the PRPD win, and what specific features of a new police station would increase their odds of winning?” 

“Are there any cop shop designs that would aid Mayor Frimark in his engineering of the hiring of the wife of one of his good friends and political contributors as the new chief?” 

Whatever the survey answers might be, however, one thing is certain: The survey will do its best to generate a lot of feel-good responses about which our City officials can pat themselves on the back and which they can use to advance an expensive project like the new police Taj Mahal.  After all, that’s how the National Research Center keeps its cash registers cha-chinging.  

7 comments so far

What a bunch of garbage. Yeah right, the city wants to know what residents think.

The Deputy City Manager says resident opinions will help them plan and set goals?

The last time residents showed up in droves to express their opinions on the Condominium development by Norwood, the City ignored them.

So much for the valuable input of the citizenry.

In Chicago and Crook County government, the rule is “We Don’t Want Nobody Nobody Sent.” In Park Ridge’s cheap imitation of Chicago and Crook County, the rule is “We don’t want to know nothing we don’t want to hear.”

If the City really wants to know what the residents think, they wouldn’t be asking them b.s. questions that get answered by “good,”
“fair” or “somewhat support.” Can anybody name which city official/employee came up wtih this harebrain idea?

Hey, I’ve got some questions for the survey:

1. “Do you want the City to give away millions of dollars of your money to Napleton or PRC?” (Yes. No. No f-ing way.)

2. “Do you want a lot more condos or townhouses built in, or on the border of, Uptown?”
(Yes. No. Are you nuts?)

3. “Do you believe the Park Ridge Chamber of Commerce gives a rat’s a** about Park Ridge and its people, other than as a source of income?”
(Yes. No. As much as I believe in the Easter Bunny.)

4. “Would the PRPD have caught the Dhamer killer if we had the big new police station?”
(Yes. No. Only if the killer was so impressed with the facility that he couldn’t resist turning himself in to get a cell there.)

And here’s my “open-ended” question (and I’m not charging $1,350 for it, either):

“Name every elected official in any branch of Park Ridge government to whom you would entrust $5,000 of your hard earned money to invest or spend wisely?”


Those are excellent questions!

Since it’s supposed to get below zero this weekend, maybe the PRPD should get some extra troops out on the street looking for guys wearing black ski masks like that sketch of the Dhamer killer.

I’ve talked to several PRPD cops and they are not nearly as revved up about a BIGGER police station as I thought they’d be. Their main complaint is that the current one has a bad layout and is a mess. Whose fault is taht?

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