Truth And Accuracy: The Casualties Of The Charter Campaign

Tom Denny is a retired Skidmore professor of music.   I have always admired Mr. Denny.  He has served Sustainable Saratoga as the head of their urban trees program.  As such he has championed the planting of trees in our city and has headed up the volunteer battalions that annually plant trees throughout the city.

A letter that Mr. Denny wrote appeared in both the Saratogian and Gazette newspapers.  In it he asserts that:

“Nearly two-thirds of City Hall employees in Saratoga Springs (65.3%) believe that “city Hall would operate better with a city manager. Only one in seven City Hall workers (15%) disagree with that statement.” (The data comes from a poll of City employees conducted by the Charter Review Commission.)”

The Charter Review Commission distributed a questionnaire to city employees on charter change.  They called it a “survey” .I have written extensively about the problems with the methodology (or lack thereof) used in designing, executing, and interpreting the results of this questionnaire.  If you may recall the problems included that according to the CRC chair, Bob Turner, they had no idea how many or who received these questionnaires.  No effort was made to design a scientific sample.  No controls were established to insure that potential respondents were inappropriately influenced.  In other words, no effort was made to design this process to meet the most minimal standards of gathering valid data.

In addition to all these problems the city has 398 employees.  According to the CRC 76 employees responded to the “survey” although not all 76 answered each question. All percentages that can be truthfully used are percentages of the 76 respondents, not of all city hall employees and not all city employees.

In spite of this we are continually told as in Mr. Denny’s letter (and he is not alone) that this flawed survey shows that such and such a percentage of city hall employees, (or sometimes it is presented as percentages of city employees) think such and such about the current government and charter change. Neither Mr. Denney nor anyone on the Charter Commission has any idea what any  percentage of city hall employees think.  Nor do I. This does not keep charter supporters from continually restating these figures as though they were facts.

I know Mr. Denny to be a sophisticated person.  He is someone who no doubt understands the science of sampling.  How is it that he would write a letter making a statement that he has no way of knowing is true and publish it in two newspapers?  How can someone like Mr. Denny promote the idea that the city employees overwhelming oppose or support the current form of our government based on a “survey” that is so manifestly flawed?  How have we come to this?

Whether or not you support charter change, how does one explain the zealotry and excess that has marked the campaign for charter change?  What a disturbing and corrosive event this has become.  People like Tom Denny are better than this.  How poorly this city has been served by this endeavor.

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