It never hurts to ask," said Jarred Brejcha, chief of staff for Mayor Dewey Bartlett.
Even in the middle of a mayor's race? Bartlett may soon find out soon when 1,800 residents turn in a seven-page survey designed to gauge their satisfaction with city services.
Surveys are expected to be mailed as soon as this week, with the city paying $48,700 to survey company ETC to handle distribute and collect answers from the questionnaire.
Preliminary results are expected this month, with a report to follow likely in May -- which would be before the June primary election for Tulsa's next mayor.
Bartlett is "essentially asking the citizens, 'Grade our performance,'" Brejcha said, acknowledging that results cannot be predicted with certainty.
He described it as checking on progress made since a similar survey done about two years ago.
That effort, funded by the Tulsa Community Foundation, was "to just help us kind of get a baseline on services and how people feel about the city of Tulsa," said Kim MacLeod, director of the city's communications department.
In that survey, 71 percent of respondents rated Tulsa's quality of life as good or excellent, with 10 percent rating it as below average or poor. Another 19 percent were neutral.
Citizens will be asked to rate specific services delivered by the city.
"We're not just asking what we hope to get an answer on that we'll like. We're asking it all," Brejcha said.
In those earlier survey results, 73 percent gave an overall rating of city services as good or excellent.
"If there was a certain level of satisfaction before, have we been able to improve that, or have we lost ground in areas? Did we divert attention to a priority ... at the expense of somewhere else?" Brejcha said, describing what the city hopes to learn.
He and MacLeod said the last survey resulted in changes to city departments, with a greater emphasis on street maintenance and preventive repairs.
Citizens asked to rank priorities two years ago put maintenance of city streets at the top of the list, followed by economic development, quality of police service and flow of traffic.
"Abandoned property received a lot more attention as a result of the first citizens' survey," Brejcha said, describing a greater focus on handling nuisance properties in the city.
This time around, Brejcha said he's interested in responses to questions related to branding efforts for the city. MacLeod said this survey offers more open-ended questions.
"I think it can be informative as we craft the budget, and I think it will be informative in just all the way we deliver our services," Brejcha said.
The previous survey attracted the attention of University of Kansas researcher Alfred Tat-Kei Ho. Along with doctoral student Jungho Park, Ho authored an academic paper that parsed the results, concluding that citizens who are better informed about what the city is doing are more likely to give higher satisfaction ratings for city services.
"We did a lot of follow-up with Dr. Ho after the survey, after he had analyzed the data," Brejcha said.
Ho and Park wrote that while such surveys are nothing new, they do have limitations. Surveys "assume that citizens have a sufficient level of understanding and information about the quality of public services," they wrote. "However, in reality, this may not be the case."
In looking at the Tulsa survey, the researchers noted that the proportion of older residents who responded was "significantly greater than that of the population."
The researchers created a model to examine demographic variables. Along with the importance of being informed, the researchers found differences among groups.
"Our findings indicate that government officials need to be more sensitive about the differences in informational needs among various profiles of residents. For example, while the more educated tend to have more positive views of public services, they also have higher expectations of being informed, and if the latter is done poorly, the negative impact of poor communication may outweigh the positive impact of education on various service satisfaction ratings. We also find that residents who are younger or are Hispanic are more likely to feel less informed," the researchers wrote.
Brejcha said ETC has Spanish-speaking phone support to help people complete surveys, and cited the survey's large sample size -- with 200 respondents from each council district -- as helping gather data representative of the whole city.
Bartlett has cited results from the previous survey as a reason to support his plan to devote a portion of sales tax roughly equivalent to $12 million yearly for public safety, road maintenance and other needs. Currently, those dollars are devoted to infrastructure projects.
These projects have been the subject of public meetings recently, with city councilors not yet decided on what proposal relating to capital needs to bring to voters.
The survey "could be informative on the capital side," Brejcha said. He added: "The citizens are still looking at, are we getting what we want? There's a lot of talk, for example, about parks. Do we want to switch to more of a regional focus on parks or do we want to continue with more but smaller parks? So if we can get some of that information back and learn what the citizens' preferences are, then that will be pretty insightful."
A web survey will be open to all citizens, but not included in the scientific results.
"I hope people are responsible enough not to politicize this and just use it as a good governing tool," Brejcha said. "Because the political decision for the mayor would have been not to do it in an election year. But he knew he values this feedback that much."
MacLeod said another new way to gather public opinion, feedbacktulsa.org, is in use by the city's planning and economic development department.
So far, about 175 people have participated though the website, which poses a question and then asks people to agree or disagree and state why.
MacLeod said the city could use the site more broadly in the future. "We're just going to evaluate it and see," MacLeod said.
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