Survey says city is on right track

July 11, 2018

As it plans for the future, Peter Leatherman said the Rochester City Council has a blank canvas.

The co-owner of Morris Leatherman Co. gave the council good news following a phone survey conducted by his company.

With 400 people called in four weeks starting May 22, Leatherman said 87 percent indicated the city was headed in the right direction, which is above the norm in similar surveys conducted by the Minneapolis-based company.

He said the typical response throughout the state find 72 percent of residents believe their cities are headed in the right direction.

“What you have is a strong endorsement in the past and a look at some opportunities in the future,” he said of the overall survey results.

While 400 people is a small sample from a city of more than 115,000 residents, Leatherman said calls made ensured a representative sample of the community was interviewed. Looking at demographics that included how long residents lived in the city, whether they owned a home, gender, age and ethnicity, he said the numbers closely matched census statistics.

“With random samples, it doesn’t matter what the percent of the community it is,” Leatherman said. “What matters is the sample size itself.”

He said a 400-person sample from across the state would yield the same probability of statistical accuracy as long as parameters are in place to mirror statewide demographics.

The result, he said, are findings that fall within a 5-point margin of error, which means the 87 percent approval of the city’s direction could range from 82 percent to 92 percent.

Reducing that margin by another percentage point would require 225 additional calls at a 50 percent greater cost to the city than the approximately $25,000 spent on the survey.

“Our cost is driven by how many people we talk to,” he told the council, adding that he’s confident in the numbers presented and will provide more details in a final report expected in three to four weeks.

Kevin Knutson, vice president of Management Partners, said the findings made an ideal opening from the city council’s effort to create a new vision and strategic plan for the city.

Management Partners, working under a contract of approximately $50,000, is helping facilitate the council’s effort to set a course for city government.

On Monday, the council and department heads gathered at Cascade Meadow Wetlands and Environmental Center for seven hours to consider options for the revised vision and city priorities, covering many topics addressed in the phone survey, as well as others raised during recent input sessions with city residents and city staff.

Knutson said the wide-ranging discussion was fruitful.

“They got it all out,” he said, noting a variety of concerns and goals were voiced. “From any perspective, that’s what counts.”

While the council wasn’t able to finalize a specific vision, it provided city staff and Management Partners facilitators with an indication of what’s desired.

Much of the council’s conversation focused on versions of words “care,” “health” and “innovation.” Other words pitched included “compassion,” “heritage” and “vitality,” but the desire to keep the end result short led to some feeling it lacked inspiration for city staff.

“This just feels OK to me,” Human Resources Director Linda Hillenbrand said at one point.

Knutson said his team will mull the input and develop an option for the council to discuss when it returns next month.

At that time, the council will also review three proposed strategic priorities in defined on Monday. They are:

• Enhance quality of life

• Foster team-oriented culture for city staff

• Manage growth and development

• Balance infrastructure investment

A fifth proposed priority — seek fiscal sustainability — was cut since it was deemed as a step in achieving each of the other priorities.

“That’s more of how you accomplish a goal and less about a goal itself,” Council Member Nick Campion said.

Knutson said his team will work to better define the goals within each priority based on council members’ comments.

Council Member Ed Hruska said the next steps will be important, even after noting the positive report from the recent phone survey.

“While our results are good up to this point, I don’t think we can sit back and say we’re good,” he said. “We need to continuously work toward improvement and drive to be the best we can be.”

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