Does Missoula’s Addiction To Surveys Require An Intervention?

by William Skink

I’m beginning to wonder if our elected leaders are capable of doing anything without first spending money to conduct a survey.

Missoula County may be facing a 6 million shortfall, but that won’t stop them from spending $18,595 on a survey of 1,700 randomly selected residents about how the County delivers services. From the link:

Missoula County is launching a survey this week to gather feedback from residents on their quality of life, the delivery of county services, safety, transportation, the economy and the natural environment, among other topics.

The county is working with the National Research Center to conduct the survey, which aims to help county leaders better understand the needs of the communities they serve, according to a press release.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made it more clear than ever that we need to make sure we’re delivering county services and meeting the needs of our residents in the most effective, efficient way possible,” said Commissioner Chair Josh Slotnick in the release.

If our County Commissioners want to know about how they are delivering services, I suggest one cost-effective step they can take is read the news. You see, reading a newspaper doesn’t cost taxpayers $18,595 dollars and, better yet, there is sometimes information about how the County is NOT DELIVERING SERVICES, like, you know, stuff to do with courts:

In Missoula County, Vannatta has been part of the working group to address the concerns that prevent a safe return to in-person functions at the courthouse. Indeed, court calendars have chugged along thanks to the virtual arenas allowed by Zoom and conference calls, while electronic case filings were a part of the judicial infrastructure before the pandemic. But Vannatta’s concerns are in the trials, which need to resolve old cases so those jailed ahead of trial can finally get their day in court.

This is a big deal because a founding document called the Constitution outlines the right of a US citizen accused of a crime to a speedy trial.

For example, let’s say you are facing felony charges for threatening public officials and could spend 10 years in prison if convicted. How would you feel if your day in court is indefinitely postponed? Even worse, if you are poor and can’t afford bail, you could be sitting in jail month after month as Missoula County tries to figure out how to safely follow the Constitution.

So, how else is Missoula County failing to meet the needs of its citizens? Well, all one has to do to see that failure is drive across the Reserve Street bridge.

The sprawling homeless camps under and around the Reserve Street bridge are a visual reminder of Missoula County’s inability to stop people from living in illegal, disgusting encampments. Despite the placement of a dumpster (which has since been removed) and volunteer clean up efforts, the reality is those efforts are like bailing out a swimming pool in a downpour.

If you want a visual, I took this picture last week from the east side of the Reserve Street bridge:


I don’t think it’s any mystery what citizens of Missoula County want. They want the delivery of essential services and fiscal accountability from the people they elect to be good stewards of their tax dollars. They want fair and consistent enforcement of the laws we are all expected to follow.

I don’t think, if given the choice, County residents want their elected leaders to constantly spend tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on out-of-state consultants to survey every little move the County makes.

The reason our elected officials keep doing this is because it provides cover for when public opinion goes south on them. If the public gets pissed about something, they can point to one of the many different surveys and say, WE VALUE PUBLIC OPINION SO MUCH WE SPENT ALL THIS MONEY SURVEYING YOU TO MAKE SURE WE ARE ONLY DOING WHAT YOU WANT US TO DO.

What if the public wants Missoula officials to stop wasting money on surveys? Will there be a question on the survey about whether or not a survey is needed?

Maybe a survey can be conducted about how the public feels about surveys. Then, when the survey is done, the County can return to ignoring public opinion while working on critical issues, like that nice, new home at the fairgrounds for bugs.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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4 Responses to Does Missoula’s Addiction To Surveys Require An Intervention?

  1. TC says:

    There really is an addiction to surveys in the City/County (remember the multitudes studying Malfunction Junction). I do believe you are absolutely correct that they are done to provide cover and a sense of credibility.
    I have little faith that this survey will be “randomized”. I believe it will be targeted to a compliant group that voted for Regional Park, Library, Open Space, etc. Having witnessed previous surveys the end result has been determined and then the survey is constructed to produce that result. I doubt this will be different – it will show that residents are overwhelming satisfied with local government and will support any additional spending the County proposes (on things like seedy hotels). The commissioners will then be able to proudly proclaim “the people have spoken!”

    • I was thinking the same thing about the “random” claim. what method is actually used to ensure it really is random? Missoula County has 100,000 people, yet this survey will only go to 1,700 people. I doubt our elected brain trust would invest money in a survey if they thought it would create more problems for their ability to govern.

  2. Pingback: The Financial Recklessness Of The Engen Survey Regime And The Mayor’s Obsession To Build An Event Center | Reptile Dysfunction

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