Charter Commission: That Employee Survey They Did – It Wasn’t A Survey

One of the key arguments put forward by the Charter Commission for changing the form of government is a “survey” that purports to show an overwhelming desire by city employees to change the form of government.   Given my past experience with the declarations of the Commission I secured a copy of the raw data of the survey to take a look at it for myself.  What I found was yet again, the extraordinary misuse of data by the Commission in their literature and presentations.

Surveying is a serious business.  To the lay person it’s about just asking people some questions.  A century of academic study has shown that to produce valid data, the authors must be disinterested and objective.  The crafting of questions, the method by which people are selected, and the vehicle by which the targets of the survey are contacted require a vigorous and time consuming process.  The reality is that a poorly designed survey provides unreliable results.  A survey to be a source of real decision making must address things like how representative are the respondents of the population under consideration?   In the case of this “survey”, the respondents were self selected  meaning the respondents had to take the initiative to respond, they were not randomly selected. There is no way of knowing therefore to what extent those who chose to respond might be representative of city employees as a  whole. Might those who responded, for instance, be those who are particularly unhappy with their jobs or have something else in common. The chair of the charter commission, Bob Turner, admitted that he had no idea who actually got the surveys.  In fact, he admitted at a meeting I attended that he did not know how many people were actually surveyed.

We do know that of 398 city employees 75 responded to the survey according to the Commission’s website.

Of the 75 employees, 70 responded to the following statement (#15): I believe city hall would operate better with a full time professional city manager.

The 70 respondents produced the following results:

Strongly Agree                                  17

Agree                                                  13

Somewhat Agree                              18

Neither Agree Nor Disagree            12

Somewhat Disagree                         10


Interestingly, unlike the other questions in the survey, for this question they changed the possible responses.  In the other survey questions they had:

Strongly agree

Somewhat agree

Neither agree or disagree

Strongly disagree

Why they chose to change the responses to this question is a mystery to me.  It may have just been sloppiness.  By the way, the label at the bottom of the chart for those opposed was mislabeled (see chart)


So if you total the first three responses which indicate some kind of support for a city manager you come up with 48.  In order to create the greatest contrast, they factored out the people who had no position.  This left the 10 who did not think city hall would operate better with a city manager.


Now since these raw numbers were still embarrassingly small, they chose to use percentages Instead.  This very much ginned up the impression for the public of their significance.  Remember that these are only the percentages of the 70 who responded to this particular question in the survey and not of city employees.

The result is a chart that shows 65.3% pro city manager and 15.3% negative.

So from a small, unscientific sampling—kaboom: the Commission declares the employees of Saratoga Springs overwhelmingly support charter change.


Now I don’t know what the numbers are in city hall regarding feelings toward the two forms of government but neither do the members of the Charter Commission based on this kind of “research.”  What I do know is that  this should be considered a “questionnaire” rather than a survey.  It violates pretty much all the standards of what any serious social scientist would characterize as a survey and it’s results are anecdotal at best and cannot be legitimately used to draw any larger conclusions about what city employees think.

Robert Turner, who chairs the Charter Review Commission is a professor of political science.  He was instrumental in creating this “questionnaire” and in reporting its results.  For a person who is a social scientist he has both the knowledge and the responsibility to accurately portray what the data produced by this questionnaire represented.  If he were not going to characterize it as what it was, a questionnaire, he had the responsibility to include some disclaimer explaining to the public the limited character of the data.    Instead, he and the Charter Commission have recklessly presented these results as evidence of widespread discontent in city hall and support for a change of government on the part of city employees.  I finish with a quote from a letter to the editor Mr. Turner published in the Saratogian on September 10th.

“These results explain why 63.3 percent of City Hall employees said they believed city hall would operate better with a city manager.”  No, Mr. Turner, they indicate that 48 out of 398 city employees ,roughly 12%, have indicated some level of support for a city manager form.



17 thoughts on “Charter Commission: That Employee Survey They Did – It Wasn’t A Survey”

  1. “These results explain why 63.3 percent of City Hall employees said they believed city hall would operate better with a city manager.” No, Mr. Turner, they indicate that 48 out of 398 city employees ,roughly 12%, have indicated some level of support for a city manager form.”

    City HALL. NOT the ‘city’.

    Please – for everyone’s benefit – stop making a fool of yourself John.

    But on the bright side, the more you blog, the more people support charter change and such. Good job!!!


    1. The questions are purposefully designed to evoke negative reasponses. This is not research. This is merely a project to manufacture false statements supporting a predetermined objective.


    2. Dave, there was no need to add that remark about John K.
      I think the more he blogs, the better he gets. And I will be voting NO on the proposed new charter.
      John Franck gave the best presentation for voting against it. He is experienced and smart.


      1. Henry – I beg to differ. Thanks. (I would reply further, but have to keep this short because otherwise John will censor it. His words, not mine!).


    3. My apologies for the confusion. I should have pointed out in my post that Commission members and their supporters often use the terms “city employees” and “city hall employees” interchangeably when referring to these survey results. For instance in a 9/10/17 letter to the Saratogian Commission member Jeff Altamari wrote, “A majority of city employees feel interdepartmental cooperation is a daily challenge often driven by political acrimony.”
      In any case all such references are incorrect. All numbers are only percentages of the 75 employees who answered the questionnaire or in some cases fewer than that depending on the question. None of the numbers represent percentages of either city employees or city hall employees.


      1. John,

        Whatever your criticism of these surveys, I have found that, for many reasons, a significant majority of City employees favor a change from the Commission form of government.

        Whichever way the vote goes on November 7, the forecast for our City’s future ranges broadly from cloudy and bleak to very stormy.

        Chris Mathiesen

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Let’s compare this to the survey that was done in 2001. At that time the committee sent a survey to every household in the city. Why did this committee take such a small sample compared to the committee in 2001?


  3. It’s a liberty thing.

    The established norm will not give in to change so easily but others will.
    Marginalized citizenry will be inclined to vote yes.

    That includes new folks, fellow democrats that can’t deal with blatant fact that H threw Bernie (that last living, true socialist-democrat), under the bus and LOST the election to the poor excuse for leadership we now have, and of course: academic communists.

    Voting yes will make them feel like they won something after such a major, crushing defeat last November.

    BTW– NYS AFL-CIO came out against the NYS Constitutional Convention.
    They represent local interests and therefor, in all good conscience, present company cannot go along with the progressives on this issue.

    The current city form of government is the most democratic, citizen-accountable representation in existence.

    We should consider ourselves fortunate.
    It has its roots in the American Revolution.

    Many special interests coerced the honest, the tax paying public to go along with their dishonest scheme. They took accountability & control away to introduce a more centralized (some say fascist or corporate) control mechanism and, well, how’s that working for everybody? Not.

    Key words: Accessibility. Accountability. Control. Corruption.
    The citizens OWN the commissioner form of government.

    Saratoga Springs is one of the very few municipalities riding on a clean, corruption-free slate.

    That’s the take-away.
    It’s a liberty thing.



    1. I’m sorry but your comment “The citizens OWN the commissioner form of government is false” The citizens of Saratoga Springs are STUCK with the Commission form of government. With Commissioners holding both the executive & legislative power this makes for control of citizens. Every 2 years there is a chance (and it happens quite often) that citizens elect Commissioners that will run a department that they have no clue on how to run it. Take this Council for example, why did Skip Scirocco win as commissioner of DPW? Certainly it wasn’t his expertise in Public Works, he was a career City Animal Control Officer. Commissioner Matheisen is a Dentist and he won his seat as head of DPS with no knowledge of how to run a Police or Fire Dept. These are both nice guys but come on.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hey “thelordsplacecom…”

        You are right BUT:
        The fact that Dr. Matheisen is a practicing DENTIST is the POINT.

        HE IS A CITIZEN, first.
        And a dental surgeon.

        What experience needed except that of a well educated, evaluationist?
        (I made that one up; lol)
        Gosh, where is Goerge Carlin, when you need him, eh?

        We, in this humble city are incredibly fortunate to be able to tap such talent.
        And the keyboardist and the blogger; dear fellow, is in that very same league.

        Terminate the commission form of government and kill all the talent.
        Welcome the communists.
        It worked for Stalin.

        Useful idiocracy reigns amongst the rabble.
        Don’t say you were not warned dear boy.

        G-d bless.



      2. Which former Public Safety Commissioner had ‘knowledge of how to run a Police or Fire Dept’? We have had retired county executives, lawyers, insurance executives, county planners, railway conductors, realtors, theater managers, physicians, etc. as DPS Commissioners, all civilians. I am aware of only one person with law enforcement experience serving as Commissioner and I have been told that it was a situation that did not work well. The Commissioner does not run the Police Dept., the Police Chief does. The Commissioner does not run the Fire/EMS Dept., the Fire Chief does. The Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner oversee the Police, Fire/EMS, Code Enforcement, Traffic Control/Maintenance Garage and Animal Control Departments but they do not directly run any of those agencies, nor should they. They provide a civilian counter balance to the operation of the Department of Public Safety.

        I am not at all an advocate for the Commission form of government but one of the positive aspects of this system is the built-in civilian oversight.

        Neither Tom McTygue nor Skip Scirocco had ‘credentials’ to run the Dept.of Public Works but they successfully provided civilian oversight of that department for a combined 40 years.

        The last three candidates for Commissioner of Accounts were accountants (John Franck, John Arpei, Steve Towne) but the position has nothing to do with accounting.

        Commissioner Franck continually (and unfairly) criticizes Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan for having a background primarily in Library Science.

        The biggest problem of the Commission form of government is that so many of our citizens have so little understanding of it.

        Chris Mathiesen
        Commissioner of Public Safety

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Spot on; Dr. Methiesen!
    And, by the way, in all his years as animal control officer, what better credentials does one need with regards to running likes of DPW? Just sayin.’


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