Just as parents may find it difficult to assess their children’s education without a school report card, City of Marco Island officials may soon be graded by residents to provide a track of the city’s progress.
City Council will be considering the idea of hiring an outside contractor for under $10,000 to conduct a citizens survey that will offer residents an opportunity to share their opinions of how well the city provides its services.
“You can’t just live in a bubble and believe everything is hunky dory,” says Marco Island’s public information coordinator Lisa Douglass.
Douglass said she wants to hear if the city is failing and where it’s failing, adding that it’s difficult to assess the city’s improvement without a benchmark.
A citizen survey is a kind of opinion poll which asks the residents for their perspectives on local issues, such as the quality of life in the community, their level of satisfaction with local government, and their political leanings on specific policies. Such a survey can be conducted by mail, telephone, Internet, or in person.
A driving force behind the initiative is that resident opinions may be as necessary to local government managers and elected officials as customer surveys are to business executives.
The idea of a citizens survey isn’t new to the city, however past surveys have been minimally successful and new attempts have been “put on a back burner,” Douglass said.
The public information department conducted an anonymous survey that only yielded about 100 responses, and “I don’t consider that successful,” she explained.
One positive of the past survey was that many people reported a desire to be able to learn about city issues on television. That information helped lead to the current broadcasting of City Council meetings on Comcast and Marco Cable, Channel 12.
Douglass said the idea of a survey being conducted by an outside agency was first mentioned by former Marco City Manager Bill Moss. Moss, she said, learned of the survey process while attending a meeting of the International City/County Management Association.
“I think people were skeptical in the past. It’s like the government knocking on your door, saying ‘hi we’re the government and we’re here to help you ... ’ I think an outside consultant will serve as a non-biased liaison,” Douglass said.
The new city manager, Steve Thompson, is also intent upon increasing communication between city officials and residents.
“I have found that constant communication is key to building and maintaining trust with the council and the community ... There should never be a problem with access to information in Marco Island,” he wrote in an e-mail to the Marco Eagle.
The survey may add another line of communication in addition to the new weekly updates already posted on the city’s Web site, cable television and other communication. Thompson said these ideas are part of an overall comprehensive communications strategy to get information to the council and the community.
The National Research Center, Inc., conducts the surveys and maintains a database of over 500 jurisdictions representing more than 40 million Americans, allowing local governments to compare their cities’ results with similar communities nearby or across the nation.
The item is anticipated to hit a City Council agenda by August. Douglass said she would like to hear the public’s general opinions of the idea before then.
The survey is anticipated to cost about $9,600 and she believes the survey results will help improve city government’s efficiency.
City officials will be able to use the data from the citizen surveys to assist them in allocating resources for maximum community benefit and forming strategic plans for community programs and policies.
Douglass said she hopes to see the survey developed with the input of each city program, committee, department and particularly residents.
E-mail Marco Island public information coordinator Lisa Douglass with opinions and ideas about the citizens survey at firstname.lastname@example.org.