Ashly Perez de Tejada is a survey specialist with the National Research Center. But, in a twist, her job is to present the survey research to city councils at their meetings. How fun! We talk about the time she was challenged by a council member and find out which city had the nicest council members.
Q: What is your relationship to city council meetings?
A: I go to city council meetings to present findings from our citizen surveys.
Q: So if you’re not doing political polling, what kinds of things are you asking?
A: We ask various questions about people’s quality of life and certain things they enjoy or dislike about their community.
Q: Do you ever sit there in the meetings watching other people present and you think, “oh, my god…these guys are tanking! How are we supposed to follow this?”
A: [Laughs] Thankfully we’ve gotten really lucky in that a lot of our presentations are done towards the beginning. But of those we’ve had to see, I would say that we just are empathetic to the situation because I know that city council meetings can be hours and hours long. So everybody else who has to present has to go through the same challenges with respect to keeping their attention, really getting their point across, but getting the heck out of there.
Q: When you’re presenting to the city council, have you ever gotten a question to the effect of, “wait, we paid money for this?”
A: Some people are surprised when we are up there. I won’t tell you the community name, but just about everybody was on board on the city council except for one person. He basically stated that the survey was useless because he was elected and, therefore, just by process of being elected, he knew what the constituency wanted.
Q: Because you’ve sat through other parts of city council meetings, has there been anything you’ve seen that’s been enjoyable to you?
A: I think it’s just interesting when they have a lot of public comment. Initially, before working this job, I had very little understanding of what city councils actually did. I have to say that surveying is the best way to get at the entire community’s opinion and not just those that go to every single council meeting and have an opinion about every single thing on the agenda.
Q: Who do you think had the nicest city council chamber?
A: I really enjoyed going to Aurora’s [Colorado] city council. They have a really cool communication area–and it’s just for every time they want to create a commercial–and they have a really nice setup. It wasn’t so intimidating because you didn’t have to stand below everybody.
Q: Nice, nice. In what city were the council members the friendliest?
A: I would probably say Cedar Rapids.
Q: Okay, Iowa.
A: I flew out there a few months ago and everybody was very welcoming and they wanted to talk to me after the fact not just about the survey results, but just to find out how things were going and actually asked me about personal stuff.
Q: Okay, there you have it. Cedar Rapids, Iowa, coming in as a dark horse for the friendliest city council members in America!
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