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Accept survey results — and correct identified weaknesses

June 6, 2009
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

The city of Cape Coral has released its annual citizen survey, conducted by National Research Center in conjunction with the City/County Management Association.

As would be expected, there's good news and bad.

The good?

While numbers have drifted down, most residents surveyed say Cape Coral is a pretty good place to be. With the survey stating that quality of life is the "single best indicator of success," 63 percent of the respondents - a couple of points higher than last year - rated the Cape as "excellent" or "good" in terms of ambiance, amenities and services. Sixty-seven percent say the Cape is a good place to live. Eighty-five percent rated the city's parks as "excellent" or "good," a nine-point differential over last year, which NRC says is a "substantial" difference (seven points being the demarcation line.)

Public safety services almost across the board got high marks with a good majority of responding residents - 92 percent - saying they feel safe in their homes and neighborhoods. Emergency services, fire and police each earned high marks with 88, 87 and 72 percent of respondents, respectively, rating those services as "excellent" or "good."

Housing is affordable, most agreed - much different from the "boom" year of 2007 when only 18 percent found the Cape an inexpensive place to buy a home - and most also agree there are a good variety of housing options.

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City staffers also got kudos with more than 50 percent of those surveyed saying encounters they have had with city employees have been excellent or good.

The bad?

Public trust is again an issue.

"In general, survey respondents demonstrated mild trust in local government," the report states.

That's, well, putting it mildly.

Only 32 percent of respondents rated value of services as good or excellent while 33 percent rated them as poor. Twenty-nine percent of respondents gave the top rating to the overall direction the city is taking; 33 percent rated it as poor.

Twenty eight percent say the city does an excellent or good job of welcoming citizens, 32 percent say the job the city does is poor.

And as for "listening to citizens," 15 percent say the city does an excellent or good job; a whopping 49 percent say the job the city is doing is poor.

City officials say survey results were driven by the economy.

This is true - to a point.

The city picked up points in affordability because the housing market collapsed. The low 8 percent "excellent" or "good" response on job opportunities also is driven by that collapse and is the lower rating in city appearance for things like overgrown grass, weedy yards and junk vehicles.

But the citizen response to trust in government lies squarely with those responsible for building it - city council and the city administration.

Given that a new council majority swept into office on a bill of building trust, the results are not good.

We suggest a couple of things.

The survey is considered a tool, and rightly so.

Council needs to accept its role - and responsibility - in the results on trust and take the appropriate action. That means stop the off-point bickering and stop the dithering on issues important to the public. Case in point: the utility expansion vote, coming up again Monday.

Two, the perception on how well council listens to the city's residents is especially telling. It's a prime talking point for council regulars but the criticism goes much deeper than that, if we are to take the survey seriously - which we should.

The public is not an unnecessary evil at the council's meetings but are rather an integral part of the council meeting process.

Recent board actions don't support a recognition of that principle. We suggest council's future actions foster a better reception to public input. Since most campaigned on this tenet, it should be an easy do.

Lastly, the survey goes into depth on public opinion on matters of budget and citizen preferences on services and related concerns. Pull the results into the budget process as this was the intent behind again funding the annual survey.

The $9,600 survey was specifically undertaken by the city as a way to improve services, to bring about more resident involvement and to strengthen community trust in government.

The city cannot take it, read it, and put it on a shelf. That would be a waste of funds at a time when every penny must be counted.

Listen, learn, and put into place policies to correct the weaknesses identified.

That's what the city's residents says is our community's greatest weakness.

It should be our greatest strength.

- Breeze editorial



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