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Internet survey will be basis of candidate questions

By Staff | Oct 1, 2011

The National Research Center is planning on using a survey-style format to formulate the questions for the upcoming general election forum sponsored by the city.

Shannon Hayden, a senior research associate for the company, said the internet-based survey will be able to collect the data which will then be turned into questions.

“This is a very low cost, transparent process to collect the exact, direct voice of the people,” she added.

The National Research Center conducts the Citizens Survey for the city, but that process was done via mail-in ballots sent to a random number of homes.

This survey will be conducted via the internet, which will likely be available on the city’s website, according to Hayden.

It’s still unknown when the survey will be available and for how long citizens will be able to take the survey.

The city decided to engage the company after officials said they received complaints during the primary election candidate forum.

City spokeswoman Connie Barron said earlier this week the complaints were part of the decision making that led to the change, but in the end, the change in format was something the city had been looking to do for some time.

The questions during the primary election forum were asked by Cape Coral News Press Editor Tom Hayden and Cape Coral Breeze editors Valarie Harring and Chris Strine as they had been in previous election years, for free.

The city is spending $400 for the candidate questions now.

Barron said previously a bank of 100 questions would be selected, but information as to who will select the questions and whether they will be public record before the forums was not available.

CapeCoral.com publisher Jeff Koehn is expected to ask the questions during the forums, and NBC2 Anchor Len Jennings is expected to moderate.

Shannon Hayden said it’s not necessary for the National Research Center to be local to formulate the questions because the survey will be able to “cultivate a synthesized wording” to create the proper questions for the forums.

“We’re not crafting these questions based on our own knowledge,” Hayden added.

Councilmember Derrick Donnell, who is running for re-election in District 7, said it would have made more sense to change the format the next election cycle, not to stop “mid stream” between the primary and general elections.

Donnell said it was important to justify spending the money, when editors of both papers performed the service for free.

“Tom and Val are part of the fabric of this community,” Donnell said. “I don’t understand why we’re spending money to have the questions posed by a company from out of state. I’m disappointed and don’t understand it.”

District 7 challenger Dave Stokes said earlier this week that he had no problem with the format as it stood.

“In these hard economic times, when we have media outlets volunteering to do it, that’s a savings to the taxpayers,” Stokes said. “I had no problem with the primary.”

District 5 candidate William “Scott” Morris said the survey method for formulating the questions might leave an important voting base out of the loop.

“You’re assuming everyone that wants to ask a question has a computer. This might result in limited feedback,” Morris said.

District 5 candidate Rana Erbrick said earlier this week she was slightly uncomfortable with primary questions that took aim at sitting council members seeking re-election, but doesn’t think reaching outside the city is a wise move.

She called the exclusion of editors Hayden, Harring and Strine “disconcerting.”

“It’s ridiculous we’re going to spend money for these questions,” Erbrick added. “They may or may not understand the issues in Cape Coral.”

District 2 Councilmember Pete Brandt, who is seeking re-election, previously said he felt the line of questioning during the primary forums was “biased” and “showed an agenda,” but he didn’t think the National Research Center would be able to formulate questions specific to Cape Coral voters.

“They’re going to ask generic things and not specifics,” Brandt said. “I thought the questions might come from voters who are citizens and know the issues.”

Videos of the primary election candidate forums are no longer available for viewing, the City Clerks Office confirmed Friday.

It could not be immediately determined why the videos were removed from the city website, capecoral.net , or who had pulled them.

The general election candidate forums are Oct 28 – 29, 7 p.m. in council chambers. If the city follows past practices, the forums will be broadcast live on the city’s public access channel and also will be made available for viewing on the city’s website.