High response for citizen survey in Cannon Beach

City Manager Brant Kucera said the survey would provide guidance for the city's upcoming strategic plan.

The last surveys were delivered to City Hall by Cannon Beach residents Friday, April 29.

Along with input from the City Council and staff, the survey will play a major role in informing the city’s strategic plan.

So far, the city has received a 40 percent response out of about 1,700 residents. City Manager Brant Kucera said this “very high” response rate is not expected to increase much more.

“It’s exciting,” Public Works Director Dan Grassick said, noting how a “vocal and passionate group” comes to city meetings but others do not come. “We always fight for public input.”

But some residents wonder what it all means. They say the survey is vague and will fail to provide meaningful direction for the city’s future.

“In completing the survey for which the city of Cannon Beach is spending $30,000, we found that its questions were designed to apply broadly to any city in the country,” Rex Amos said in a letter to The Daily Astorian. “This expensive exercise is a poor substitute for good governing.”

At a City Council meeting in early April, Vinnie Ferrau said certain questions were straightforward and others were vague.

“If I am not in favor of current economic development and I choose ‘poor,’ will that be interpreted as not enough or too much?” Ferrau asked.

Kucera responded that “poor” would mean that the citizen is unhappy with the specific city services provided.

At the same meeting, Jan Siebert-Wahrmund said she was concerned that the questions were too vague to inform decisions on complex issues.

“The answers allowed don’t give any indication of why a citizen votes one way or another,” Siebert-Wahrmund said, adding that responses can be “misinterpreted” because of the vague questions and answers. “Our community needs and deserves real dialogue, which takes time and effort but is worth it.”

The surveys, mailed to residents about a month ago, will be analyzed soon. A preliminary report should be available May 16, and in late May, city councilors and consultants will meet to review the survey responses that will “become a large part of the strategic planning,” Kucera said.

The strategic plan is a two-year process that will also include plans for the next five and 10 years and will help guide future city policies and goals.

The plan is to be updated continually and reviewed each year as a “living document,” Grassick said. “The goal for me is to take it and overlay it in public works to make sure I am prioritizing the right things. It’s another road map for guiding each department through annual work plans.”

For example, strategic planning would be taken into account when planning roads, providing water services or creating visitor amenities.

Kucera has completed strategic plans involving citizen surveys for six communities. The National Citizen Survey has administered more than 1,000 surveys of residents for local governments of various sizes.

“The survey gives an accurate reflection about how the community feels about the direction we’re heading,” Kucera said. “It can affirm we’re heading in the right direction or show us areas we need to concentrate on more.”

Areas of weakness can be prioritized in the strategic plan, he said.

“It is meant to gauge the public satisfaction rate with the city,” Kucera said.

The survey includes many standard questions, but certain questions were tailored specifically to the community. Cannon Beach is unique in that it is a coastal town with tourist activity in a remote location, Grassick said.

Citizens could also write comments.

Kucera said he hopes the surveys, by asking citizens for their honest opinions, help to “build trust” in the government. “We are asking all residents to have an equal voice,” he said.

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