Town council deals with distribution errors, duplicate surveys
Stallings council members are having second thoughts about the town’s recent citizen survey. The survey went under the microscope at the town hall meeting on Monday, June 27, addressing errors regarding the survey’s distribution.
The council had intended to send the survey to each household in Stallings, hoping to gather feedback from residents that would help with some upcoming decisions. To do this, the town hired Dr. Paul Friday, a criminal justice professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, to head up administering survey. However, the distribution did not go as planned.
During the course of conducting the survey, the town saw cases where duplicate mailings were sent to the same address, and others where Stallings residents didn’t receive a survey at all.
Having been one of those cases, Mayor Pro-tem Wyatt Dunn was particularly vocal on the subject. Dunn reported receiving three surveys, the last of which had the envelope stamped upside down and the survey inserted backward. “It was very unprofessional,” he said.
Dunn was one of many Stallings residents to receive more than one copy of the survey. Friday addressed the council, stating that dozens of duplicate surveys had been distributed to citizens throughout the town, including one business management company that was sent 42 copies.
Friday discovered that part of the problem stemmed from the way the addresses were cataloged on the lists he received. Some addresses were spelled two ways (For example, the street “Peachtree” was listed both as one word and as two). Other addresses were listed twice with the same zip code, but different city names.
Friday received two different lists of Stallings addresses, and the surveys were sent out in waves, which created some overlap with the distribution. “All I know is I had two lists, both of which were not accurate,” he told the town council. “In the process of trying to get them out in a timely way, there was some overlap with sending the first wave and the second wave.”
Town manager Brian Matthews discovered errors within the two lists. Because the town does not maintain its own list of citizens, Friday was given a tax address list the first time and the town’s 911 address list subsequently. The town has relied on the 911 address list numerous times in the past. “We haven’t developed our own list, because we thought this was accurate,” said Matthews. “The good news is we’ve found the deficiency.”
Mayor Lynda Paxton was apologetic to Friday on the town’s behalf. “I think it was the town’s responsibility to provide you a complete and accurate mailing list,” she said. “I don’t think Dr. Friday should have to eat this cost.”
Council member Renee Hartis agreed with Paxton. “I wouldn’t be comfortable with not paying you something,” Hartis said to Friday. Hartis also said she believes that Friday should bill the town what he believes they owe him for the job.
Other council members were not as quick to assume responsibility for the error. “I feel like you did a sloppy job,” council member Harry Stokes told Friday. Council member Paul Frost also called the process “sloppy,” citing typos and formatting errors for which Friday was responsible.
The question that posed the council was whether to accept the survey the way it was or to scratch it completely and distribute a new survey. Dunn was particularly concerned that the margin of error would be increased by the distribution issues.
Friday stated that the estimate for duplicate and overlapping surveys is about 200 out of the 5,116 distributed (approximately four percent). Although the returned surveys have not yet been counted or analyzed, he doubted that people who received duplicates would have filled out the survey more than once, explaining that even if this did occur, it would not be significant enough to affect the end results.
The council chose by a majority vote to accept the survey as is, with Dunn and Stokes objecting. “I just think it’ll be skewed,” said Stokes.
Friday apologized to the council for the error and vowed to use the upcoming days and weeks to ensure that the analysis goes smoothly and accurately. “It was a difficult time for me in terms of the work, and I was probably not as accurate as I should have been,” he said. “I can assure you that I will pay extra special attention to the data analysis.”