Who’s really calling?
July 25, 2006
A weekend phone survey that sought the opinions of Aspenites on a number of questions about planning and development left some respondents wondering just who was asking the questions.Interviewers for the survey told some respondents that the city’s planning commission sponsored the survey. In truth, Aspen did not generate the phone survey, city spokeswoman Mitzi Rapkin said. It’s not clear who is behind the effort to glean citizen input. What is clear is that there are at least three companies involved one way or another with the survey.The survey comes on the heels of City Council’s efforts to garner citizen input on hot-button development issues through a series of focus groups and public meetings.Rapkin reached the company that was interviewing Aspenites yesterday. But the company, California-based Inquire Market Research, turned out simply to be a call center subcontracted to ask the questions. Rapkin said they agreed not to say they represented the city.Later in the day, however, The Aspen Times took the poll and directly asked the interviewer from Inquire Market Research whose survey it was. The interviewer responded, “CRG Research on behalf of [the] Aspen City Planning Commission.” An Inquire Market Research supervisor clarified afterwards that the interviewer “should not be using that terminology.” He said his company “had received numerous complaints” about the survey and that “some of the interviewers … took it upon themselves” to use the planning commission language. He said it was his company’s mistake.CRG Research has offices in Anchorage, Seattle and Washington, D.C., although the parent company, Craciun Research Group, Inc., is based in the United Kingdom.A CRG employee at the Anchorage office refused to comment except to say the survey is not being conducted for the city of Aspen. When asked for the name of CRG’s client, she identified a Seattle-based company called “The Connections Group,” which advises political campaigns, private companies and individuals on media strategies and public relations.A Connections Group employee reached late yesterday would not allow his name to be used, but said the language in the survey does not indicate it is being done for the city of Aspen. When asked who had hired The Connections Group to conduct the survey, he said “We’re working with CRG.” He declined to clarify that answer.When The Aspen Times took the survey, the interviewer asked for personal information such as zip code, age group, whether or not the respondent owns property in Aspen and if the respondent rents employee housing or a free-market unit. The interviewer sought to distinguish specifically between employee housing and free-market rentals.The surveyor made a number of statements regarding development in Aspen and asked for a response indicating level of agreement, ranging from strongly agreeing or disagreeing to favoring or opposing the statements.Among them were the following: “The city is considering growth-management regulations that will seriously impact what people can do with their single-family and duplex homes,” and “How familiar are you with the proposed changes to the land-use code?”To date, the council has not proposed any specific changes to the land-use code, although it has imposed a moratorium on building applications and permits, and might propose code changes at a later date. But the survey only allowed for respondents to agree or disagree with the first statement and to rate familiarity with changes to the land-use code on the second.Rapkin, who took the survey Monday morning, said she is concerned that the statements imply the city has already proposed changes to the code.”They haven’t made the code changes,” she said, “so I didn’t really understand where those questions were going.”At Monday night’s City Council meeting, Councilman Jack Johnson also said he was concerned when he “realized how loaded [the questions] were.”While Rapkin said she didn’t see a problem with a private entity conducting a survey, she did have a problem with interviewers misrepresenting themselves as being from the city. “It’s disingenuous,” she said. “We’ve just gotten so many phone calls. … People are just confused.”Rapkin also said a representative of CRG Research asked for a copy of the list of participants in the city’s focus groups. The city declined to share the contact information with CRG.”My guess is that they need another database, and she was asking us for ours,” she said.Councilman J.E. DeVilbiss said he also was confused when he received a call from surveyors. Johnson supported DeVilbiss’s request at last night’s council meeting that “council be alerted when doing surveys so they know immediately if it’s really from the city.” Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org