July 13, 2024

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Eugene survey: About 60 percent have ‘not much’ or ‘no confidence’ in council

6 min read
A community survey finds that most people in Eugene have lost confidence in the city council.

A community survey finds that most people in Eugene have lost confidence in the city council. At the work session Sept. 21, Jason Dedrick.

[00:00:09] Jason Dedrick: My name is Jason Dedrick. I am a policy analyst in the city manager’s office. And I’m here today to give you a presentation of these survey results that we have…

[00:00:18] 41% of our respondents believe that the value they’re receiving for their city tax dollars is below average or poor. And almost half of our respondents believe the direction that the city is taking is below average or poor…

[00:00:31] We asked in two separate questions, how respondents felt in terms of confidence in Eugene city council, and then separately in staff, when it comes to handling issues in the city. There were four choices given; the two at the top are sort of a positive level of confidence: 42% positive in council, 56% in staff. And then in terms of kind of negative confidence, not much or no confidence, 58% for council and 44% for staff.

[00:00:54] John Q: The 60-40 split tracks the voter sentiment in the Ward 7 recall election.

[00:01:00] Jason Dedrick: So, what is seemingly not-great numbers in terms of confidence in council and staff. However, when you start looking at the context to other parts of the country, we actually are looking pretty good.

[00:01:10] Again, doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. But when we compare city council confidence in Eugene at 42%, around the Pacific Northwest it’s lower, around the U.S. it’s also lower. And then a pretty notable response here in terms of city staff, 56% positive in Eugene and much lower in the Pacific Northwest and in the U.S…

[00:01:30] We received a higher response rate, many more folks from Wards 1 and 2. So they just responded to the survey at a higher rate than those in the other wards…

[00:01:39] Councilor Jennifer Yeh: Thanks to folks in the community who are willing to do this survey. I realized, you know, surveys are not always fun or easy to do. They can be a little invasive and, you know, having so many people willing to do it, I think is really encouraging that folks see that there is some value in giving us their opinion. I think that’s what it says is they think we’re going to listen and think we’re going to talk about this. And so they’re willing to spend that time doing that.

[00:02:04] Councilor Alan Zelenka: There’s a lot of anger out there. There’s a lot of frustration. There’s discontentedness in the country and Eugene’s not an exception.

[00:02:11] The homelessness, pandemic, economy, affordable housing, all those things kind of weigh on everybody. And I think we saw that a little bit in Claire’s recall election too. And a lot of this has to do with things that are either out of our control or baked for 50 years and we’re just not really seeing a lot of work on them. And in some cases we’re a national leader in homelessness services, but people don’t know that.

[00:02:37] We’re not telling our story. And the amount of constituent emails we get is just untenable for a part-time volunteer council to deal with. And so I think we need to prioritize that. We’ve been talking about that and talking about that for years, but I think the council needs to take that and prioritize it in the budget. That means FTE (Full Time Equivalent staff positions) and dollar resources towards it.

[00:03:01] I’ve been against this, but I’ve changed my mind. I think council needs staff. It’s untenable, how much stuff we are expected to do in the time that we have to do it. And if we could have even a modest amount of staff—say one staff person for four councilors, so two FTE associated with helping us regenerate emails back or figuring out things and helping us get organized and talking to our constituents and doing constituent respondents—is really important.

[00:03:29] Councilor Matt Keating: Thank you so much, Councilor Zelenka for articulating so clearly what’s on my mind as well.

[00:03:34] We desperately need staff. We have this many right now (forms the number ‘zero’ with his thumb and forefinger.) Yeah. This many staff dedicated to council. And it shows in this survey,

[00:03:41] I share the frustrations, especially in regards to communication outreach and education challenges to my own constituency. My own e-communication to constituents in my ward is limited to my outreach from my campaign, not from the city, right? I have no official communication at a large scale. There’s no budget for me to communicate broadly to my constituents. And yet our neighborhood associations have thousands of emails that they can communicate readily—and do and should.

[00:04:17] And yet we are hamstrung and have to use our campaign apparatus to communicate. That should fundamentally change. We should budget appropriately for individual and broad council communications to our constituents: newsletters, more carbon-neutral e-blasts, tele-town halls, virtual town halls, in-person town halls. All of the above would be most welcome.

[00:04:42] Councilor Randy Groves: I agree, we’ve got to find a better way to get our word out there. And I don’t know what the right way to do that anymore is. Obviously our local media has changed quite a bit, but I continually feel like we’re surprising people and that’s not a good position to be in. So whatever we can do, in fact, I almost think that should be a strategy of its own: How do we better engage the community.

[00:05:05] I know we’ve won awards and everything else for our community engagement on middle housing. But at the same time, we’ve managed to surprise a big portion of our community…and I do know what I hear and people are frustrated. So, I’m not surprised at some of the ratings here.

[00:05:23] Councilor Emily Semple: It’s just the education of the public, over and over. People don’t know what we’re doing, so they assume we’re doing nothing. They see the problem, so they think we’re making it worse, or we just don’t care. And that’s not true. And I agree, we don’t have a good newspaper. We don’t have any good way of engaging people, especially those who aren’t online.

[00:05:47] Councilor Mike Clark: None of these numbers surprise me. I hear it every single day. And I don’t think that has as much to do with communication.

[00:05:54] Most people in our community,…I think they see the city as making decisions and taking actions that in their mind are just nuts, just crazy.

[00:06:05] What they see the city organization doing and the decisions and the things we’re discussing as no-way, no-where near relevant to their priorities and what they think we ought to be doing to help solve problems for them.

[00:06:20] Our solutions are nowhere near what they think will solve the problem. I think it’s important to acknowledge that disconnect and I don’t think any amount of communication about intent is likely to alter that.

[00:06:34] I think these results are a very clear message that most people think the actions we are taking towards the problems all of us see are not the right ones. And we ought to consider that.

[00:06:46] Maybe it’s council’s decisions that are wrong. And maybe we need to be willing to say, ‘We’re not right about our assumptions here. And we need to try a solution that we haven’t tried before.’

[00:07:00] The people in our community are very, very smart. We talk about this frequently. We’re a very well-educated community.

[00:07:07] We may want to consider our actions and directions as council in line with what most people think will solve a problem. Many of the things that this council decides in the way of direction for solutions to problems won’t help at all and may make matters worse.

[00:07:28] And I think that plays a part of what we’re seeing in the survey results, that the results of our work are not making things better. And I think most of the community is smart enough to know that.

[00:07:43] John Q: Councilors react to the latest community survey, which says about 60 percent have little or no confidence in the city council.

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