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City says survey will help with planning

PINELLAS PARK - Officials say a questionnaire sent to residents is so accurate they're using the responses to help develop the city's budget, but they're ignoring suggestions that the city manager be fired.

By ANNE LINDBERG

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 13, 2000


PINELLAS PARK -- Officials say a questionnaire sent to residents is so accurate they're using the responses to help develop the city's budget, but they're ignoring suggestions that the city manager be fired.

They're also brushing aside criticisms for large raises to city administrators and high taxes.

"The survey's really about service improvement," City Manager Jerry Mudd said Tuesday. "It's not really about how popular employees are."

It's unclear whether the questionnaire has any statistical accuracy. The questions were created by city staff and mailed to residents and businesses with their water bills. A total of 1,583 surveys were returned.

That's enough to have an accurate idea what all Pinellas Park residents think, said Bob Bray, the city's planning director who was in charge of the mailing.

The response rate was high, but University of South Florida political science professor Susan MacManus was skeptical of the mailout method.

"It's not representative," MacManus said. Surveys sent in water bills tend "to have very much of a bias against people with low economic levels . . . . There's a history of those mailouts being very unrepresentative."

The mailing also neglected to ask for demographic information, such as age, sex and race. MacManus said there is no way to determine whether the city is getting answers mostly from men or women, seniors or younger people.

"They can't know anything about how accurate it is as a representation of their population," MacManus said.

Bray said staff members decided not to ask for demographic information because of space limitations and because many people leave that information blank. Besides, he said, the city staff relied on texts and how-to books that indicated that the number of responses outweighs the lack of demographic information.

"My understanding from these texts is that the number of responses can offset the information you'd glean from demographics," Bray said.

He added, "We believe that it is a valid survey in that we have received 15.7 percent rate of return on this survey. My understanding and my recollection on surveys of this nature is that this is a fairly high rate of return. We feel comfortable with it being that high."

The questionnaire is only one way for officials to find out what residents really think, Bray said. Another is the town meeting, and one is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 17 at the City Auditorium, 7690 59th St. N, Bray said. Residents can talk about the questionnaire and offer their suggestions for improvement.

Mudd also defended the accuracy of the results, saying, "We feel that the service improvement survey is very representative."

This is the second year city officials have asked residents and business owners for their opinions on what needs to be done to improve Pinellas Park. The answers will be used to develop the city's service improvement plan and the budget.

For the second year, drainage has proven to be the No. 1 concern. Also high on the list were street maintenance and code enforcement. Mudd said city staff already is concentrating on those items.

"I believe we are acting very responsibly," he said.

Many respondents expressed a significantly lesser opinion of the way the city is run.

One resident said the Pinellas Park Police Department was "Corrupt to the max!! The whole department needs to be fired and replaced!! Pigs!! All of them!!"

The same person also was dissatisfied with the mayor, the council, Mudd and the city staff, suggesting, "All need to be fired and replaced!!"

Another respondent said: "We're being eaten alive by taxes and government busybodies acting on their own smug enlightenment."

Yet another hit at Mudd and council members Rick Butler and Ed Taylor: "This city has regressed 30 years since Mudd was appointed and Taylor and Butler were elected. No hope of good things with these incompetents in charge."

The raises that the mayor and council recently gave themselves provoked criticism: "You all need to learn to budget better. Don't give yourselves high raises . . . . Some of us don't even make $15,000 a year on a full-time job."

There were compliments.

"Thanks to Jerry Mudd and the City Council for "cleaning up' the Police Department by ridding the department of "old school' management practices," one person wrote.

Another praised a yearly event: "Really like Country in the Park. Need more like it."

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