Survey: Aspen is great, but City Manager’s Office needs improvement |

Survey: Aspen is great, but City Manager’s Office needs improvement

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times
Aspen, as seen Monday from the overlook of Smuggler Mountain, has a high quality-of-life rating among its residents, according to results of the 2015 City of Aspen Citizen Survey, which was released Tuesday.
Dale Strode/The Aspen Times |

Survey says: Aspenites are opinionated

Here’s an unedited sampling of comments made in the 2015 Aspen Citizen Survey, from the good to the bad to the ugly. The complete survey is available at

• “Pot smoking needs more policing.”

• “I love Aspen!”

• “The city leadership does a wonderful job, keep it up.”

• “Current city council out of touch with year-round citizens.”

• “Sick and tired of risking my life because we won’t enforce traffic laws.”

• “Traffic/entrance must be mitigated!”

• “Dog poop everywhere (sick of it).”

• “Too many events in the parks!”

• “Parks & rec & open space do a magnificent job!”

• “Get rid of the U.S.A. pro challenge bike race, and make bikes stop at the stop signs.”

• “Newspapers are never accurate.”

• “This survey is way too long.”

Source: City of Aspen

Aspen residents will debate just about anything — building heights, rush-hour traffic, parking, dog poop, hospitality and traffic, among other polarizing issues. But a survey released Tuesday shows they can almost agree on one thing: the quality of life.

The 2015 City of Aspen Citizen Survey showed 60 percent of respondents believe Aspen has an “excellent” quality of life, another 35 percent call it “good” and the remaining 5 percent consider it “fair” or “poor.”

The survey keyed on residents’ satisfaction levels with city departments and services. Overall, 86 percent of the respondents said they were either “satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with city departments.

Assistant City Manager Barry Crook said the survey indicates “the people who live in Aspen recognize the glorious quality of life we have here, generally are very satisfied with the services that the city provides and that our problems are ones that most communities would love to be limited to.”

Landing the highest marks were the utility-billing staff, finance-window staff and Police Department.

Room for improvement

The results, however, weren’t all rosy, the survey noted, singling out the City Manager’s Office.

“Overall, ratings for most (of the department) remained stable from 2014 to 2015,” the survey said. “However, ratings for the city manager’s staff as accurate, prompt, responsive and informative declined from 2014 to 2015.”

Among the survey’s findings on the City Manager’s Office:

• Sixty-three percent said the department’s service was accurate.

• Sixty-eight percent said the office’s service was prompt.

• Sixty-nine percent said the office was response, helpful and knowledgeable.

• Sixty-eight percent said the staff was knowledgeable.

Overall, 68 percent of the respondents said they were either “somewhat satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the department, which is run by City Manager Steve Barwick.

Three other offices or services were ranked lower in the same category addressing satisfaction: the Burlingame II affordable-housing development (62 percent), Community Development (57 percent) and Transportation and Parking (57 percent).

Crook said the grades of the City Manager’s Office, as well as the other departments with the lower marks, could be a reflection of Aspen’s divisive political climate.

“The relatively low scores (the City Manager’s Office) has related to customer service,” Crook emailed in response to questions from The Aspen Times. “It is often difficult to discern whether it is truly a reflection of interactions people have with the City Manager’s Office or if it is more reflective of the policy decisions made by the city government, but in any case, we have to assume that we need to do a better job of being helpful and a source of information for folks.”

Crook also theorized that the lower satisfaction rates could coincide with “areas of government work where controversy often resides.”

“You see low scores for the City Manager’s Office, Burlingame, (Community Development) and Transportation/Parking,” he wrote. “For the new phase of Burlingame, the scores are inexplicable — the folks we sold units to love the new phase of the housing development, so the low scores seem not to reflect the experience of those people moving in out there, but lingering controversies by the public at large.

“Likewise, the policy issues in (Community Development), Transportation and Parking are — I believe — a mix of real customer service experiences that have not been as good as we could make them, and a reflection of people’s unhappiness with policy decisions made in those department’s arena of work.”

Trust in government

Crook noted the fact that 43 percent of the respondents said the city does a “good” or “excellent” job of matching expenditures to community priorities. Another 42 percent said the city does a “good” or “excellent” job of listening to residents.

He said those results are “not acceptable.”

“Even though we use a wide variety of tools and techniques to gather the ‘voice of the customer,’ something doesn’t sit well with our residents,” he wrote. “Is it that they don’t agree with the decisions made and express that dissatisfaction with their responses here, or have we still not ‘cracked the nut’ regarding how to reach out and let our citizens speak to us?”

Despite those relatively low marks in the “Public Trust” category of the survey, at least 60 percent of the respondents gave the city “excellent” or “good” marks in its ability to inform residents, give them quality information, respond to requests for public records and information, and give them value on city services.

Crook said the City Council will review the results to decide where the municipal government can improve.

“The survey is not dispositive about council decisions, but it provides additional context apart from the voices heard at the traditional public hearings,” he said.

Aspen taxpayers spent $19,410 on the survey, conducted by the National Research Center, which mailed the questionnaires to 1,750 registered-voter households within city limits. The survey generated 371 responses, or 23 percent, which is one percentage point better than 2014. The survey’s margin of error is plus or minus 5 percent.

“The survey results were weighted to reflect the demographic profile of all registered voters in the city of Aspen,” the survey’s summary said. Of the respondents, 75 percent have lived in Aspen for more than 10 years, the highest return rate in the time-in-Aspen category. At 26 percent, those in the 45-to-54 age group tallied the highest return rate. Owners of employee housing had a 39 percent return rate, the highest rate in the housing-status category.