Faking Democracy in Tempe
By Ron Tapscott, Bob Sommer, Marie Provine, Bob Grossfeld | November 20, 2023
How does our Tempe City Council succeed in seeming to be responsive while in reality often ignoring the needs of those they were elected to serve? How do they make it appear that they’re listening to us, “the electorate,” while doing whatever best serves their interests instead? Here are some tactics they have been observed using:
A. “Listening” to the public in the guise of the 3-minute comments permitted at city council meetings with no opportunity for dialogue with the councilmembers.
B. Requesting reports from standing committees and commissions, then ignore their recommendations if they conflict with developers’ interests.
C. Claiming to be open to suggestions when formulating major policy documents, like the 2050 Plan, but historically, granting policy variances in design, policy, or code requirements to developers and others who seek to make their projects more profitable.
D. Encouraging emails to the mayor and council and then responding with boilerplate pablum or not at all.
E. Using “push polling,” a marketing technique used in political campaigns, in which an attempt is made to manipulate voters’ views under the guise of conducting an opinion poll. Large numbers of voters are contacted with little effort made to collect and fairly analyze voters’ response data. Instead, the push poll is a form of telemarketing propaganda that appears to be an opinion poll. In such polls, the pollster may ask leading questions or tailor the list of answer options that “push” the interviewee toward selecting responses favorable to the organization.
City of Tempe’s example of a recent survey that looks like a poll
Photo at right is an example of the existing sign for Creamery Park
Examples of proposed vertical and horizontal signs
The survey questions included
- Do you prefer horizontal or vertical monuments?
- Which base and nameplate materials would you prefer? What color?
- What information would you like to see displayed?
Respondents were given a choice of options including “no preference” but at no point were they asked if our parks actually needed new monument signs. There was an option for including a comment and over 100 residents said that no new signage was needed (see pages 11-32 of the survey report). So what’s the problem, you may ask? The published results show only the responses to the survey questions and do not include the opinions expressed in the comments. The report summary shows, for example, that 64.32% of respondents preferred a horizontal sign and only 6.91% (56 people) had no preference. The 100+ who wanted no new signage at all were clearly not counted.
The moral of this story is that the City would have us believe residents are guiding, or at least influencing, their decision-making process. We don’t think so. We will have more to share with you on such practices in upcoming newsletters.