By David Anderson
There is a troublesome juxtaposition of recent goings-on at Lakewood City Hall.
Page 11 of the city’s “Fall 2013 Newsletter and Recreation Guide” delivered to mailboxes throughout the city in recent days indicates there will be a “Street and Parks Survey Coming Soon.”
The other related item is the very last line of the very last page (44 in all) of the City Council agenda packet for this past August 26.
There, Matt Kaser, Acting City Attorney, had a warning for city council.
“Surveys which could be viewed as being ‘used for the purpose of appealing, directly or indirectly, for votes or for financial or other support or opposition in any election campaign,’ should be avoided.”
“Surveys,” concluded Kaser, “fall into a suspect classification.”
Kaser was providing the council-requested feedback on deadlines for placing a measure on the ballot for next February 11 – very likely a measure to raise taxes or assess fees for street improvements, the measure’s potential for success evidently to be measured by a survey.
The method – a survey – is suspect. The timing of the survey is suspicious. Especially since the council has already tipped its hand as to what in reality the survey is for.
In an article in the Tacoma News Tribune November 24, 2012 (TNT), council members intimated the possibility that in 2013-14 they would be asking Lakewood voters “to raise property taxes to pay for road work and street maintenance.”
Eight months later, on July 9, 2013 the TNT reported that as “the Lakewood City Council continues to spin its wheels over asking voters to approve a fee or tax for street maintenance,” there were a significant number of council members who declared they would by-pass the voters if the council didn’t like the feedback from a survey they were then contemplating to gauge public support for a fee or tax increase.
“McGovern-Pilant, who will leave office at the end of the year, said the council should cut to the chase and approve the $20 fee without going to voters. Whalen and Mayor Don Anderson expressed a willingness to do that if voters rejected the measure the council finally agrees on.”
To find out what the council agrees on – that you the citizen may not agree with – and to put the best face on what is apparently a foregone conclusion, the council was contemplating then, and plans on implementing now, a survey to test the citizen’s opinion about which at least three of the councilmembers have already decided what your opinion should be.
“Council members are now banking on a community survey that could go out as early as August to help provide them with some direction on shaping the measure.”
To sweeten the pot, “officials also are weighing adding sidewalk and other street-related projects in neighborhoods to garner more public support. Councilman Jason Whalen said the approach could ‘make an overall funding package more sellable’ to voters.”
The August date for the survey of course has come and gone but this latest news that a survey is now indeed coming to a neighborhood near you is troublesome.
That the council is already on record for having clearly stated its intent to “shape the measure” for a tax or fee increase via a survey with “sellable” features – when a survey’s purpose is ostensibly and legally only for the purpose of gathering information and not steering the respondents toward a desired pre-determined outcome – make this new parks and pavement survey most suspect.
Surveys, while purportedly for the purpose of taking the pulse of the public, can in reality be for the purpose of imperceptibly pushing people toward a preferred objective.
In political campaigning they’re called “push polls in which an organization attempts to influence or alter the view of respondents under the guise of conducting a poll.”
A most suspect survey.
Post-script: A further question – how did the decision to use GMA Market Research Company to implement the survey come about? And at what cost? Researching how your elected representatives voted on issues – ranging from the disposal of a surplus police dog to who serves on what advisory board – yielded no results in answer to this question.