Survey says? Council prepares to poll Marco Island employees, citizens

Lance Shearer
City Council chairman Jared Grifoni presents an award for 35 years of service to Mike Ehlen, left. The Marco Island City Council met June 7 in council chambers.

Marco Island likely has some surveys in its future – but first, City Council must survey the survey firms.

During the Oct, 5 City Council meeting, Councilor Greg Folley requested an “organization-wide employee engagement survey” of city staffers, plus a “follow-on action plan based on the results,” in conjunction with the city manager’s performance evaluation. Another survey requested would cover all island residents, to “measure community satisfaction with key city services” and identify opportunities for improvement.

Assistant to the city manager Dr. Casey Lucius, who presented the staff’s recommendations on survey firms to the council on Monday evening, pointed out there has never been a comprehensive survey of residents done by the city. The last employee survey was conducted in 2017. She had presented each councilor with proposals from five potential vendors, more than the three possibilities required, and made a recommendation on proceeding with one of the firms, Polco National Research Center.

Assistant to the city manager Casey Lucius briefs council on survey proposals. The Marco Island City Council met June 7 in council chambers.

While it was difficult to be sure the comparison was apples-to-apples, Polco appeared to be the low bidder, at $8,000 for the employee survey and $15,500 for the community survey. The proposed timeline called for the employee survey to be conducted this August, with results and action plan by October. The citizen survey would be conducted between November and January, with results analyzed and further action by next February to March.

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Previous council business Monday evening had been pro forma, with little discussion and no controversy. Items included awarding of a repaving contract for $1,570,000, a resolution authorizing execution of a memorandum of understanding regarding opioid litigation, a presentation by Fire-Rescue Chief Chris Byrne on hurricane preparedness, appointments to city boards, and employee service awards. Mike Ehlen of the city’s utilities division, awarded for 35 years of faithful service, long before Marco Island became a city, had a crowd of family and supporters as he received his placard, and the crowd thinned out noticeably when they all trooped out to the lobby to celebrate with cake.

But back in the council chambers, things heated up a little. Vice chair Folley, video-calling in remotely, moved to accept the proposals, with a second from Councilor Erik Brechnitz, but other council members wanted to weigh in first.

“I don’t support the community survey. Our citizens have been surveyed to death,” said Councilor Rich Blonna, although he said he “totally” supported the employee survey. He proposed using a different vendor than the recommendation.

Drawing on her business background, Councilor Claire Babrowski said the proposed survey, and most of the others, “feel really dated to me, like surveys they were doing 25 years ago, and the world has changed. It’s like asking people how they like their buggy whip.” She favored the approach of Zen City, with an approach mining data using social media.

Lucius pointed out that never having done a baseline survey, asking some basic questions would give a starting point for future surveying. City Manager Mike McNees said the Zen City approach was geared toward identifying “squeaky wheels.”

Councilor Joe Rola said many answers could be intuited.

“Are people happy with their jobs? More or less –it’s a job.” On the residents’ survey, he said “ I don’t even have to ask those questions. Everybody comes here for the beach, the water, the temperature, the ambience, and the safety.” The Zen City approach, he said, “would tell the city manager next to nothing.”

Like many on the council, he raised the question of the city’s work-in-progress comprehensive plan as a way to gauge community sentiment. Brechnitz asked how you “keep people from stuffing the ballot box. What prevents someone from taking the survey 20 times,” which Lucius said was “a good question.”

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There would be no way, said Council Chair Jared Grifoni, to limit a survey conducted by mailing postcards with response by email, to limit it to “one resident, one vote.”

The dissent carried through to the final vote, in which an amended motion to accept only the employee survey and delay the community survey carried 6-1, with Blonna dissenting.

The next city council meeting is scheduled for June 21.