Critics are angry at a lack of representation in a survey conducted by The Impact Group to determine the top priorities of Oberlin residents.
For six months, the consulting firm gathered responses from 404 people. Spokesman Tom Speaks said the survey covered a “really nice sample throughout the community — geographically, racially, and income diverse.”
But council members Sharon Pearson, Kelley Singleton, and Scott Broadwell were disappointed in the meager representation of African-Americans and low-income respondents.
Phone surveys and focus groups were controlled to make sure a wide range of backgrounds were represented, consultants said. Black people had 50 percent representation in the focus groups, while nine percent of respondents have annual incomes up to $24,000.
The firm worked with city administrators to select key groups and businesses to make the data diverse, including the Women in Sustainable Employment effort at Oberlin Community Services, the Oberlin Business Partnership, and First Church. The Impact Group would not say what businesses were involved in the process, even though their names are a matter of public record under Ohio law.
Pearson did not feel these groups were a diverse enough representation.
As Broadwell pointed out, Oberlin is home to a 14 percent black population but only eight percent were surveyed. Speaks said the firm “went to every extent to target the different areas in the community and hit as many folks as we could. We called many people multiple times to hit certain demographics.”
Councilman Kelley Singleton said he was disappointed that no questions appeared at all about economic development.
The community survey was intended to be a light and quick understanding of Oberlin, and economic development falls a little too weighty and difficult for people to understand, Speaks said.
There was an overall consensus by council that the data and the questions asked seemed general — it shows what is important but does not reveal anything about why.
“You really could do an entire study on the police, or the arts, or climate. We made the decision collectively to try to get a discussion about what are the most important parts of the city. There’s a real desire and appreciation for some of the basic services you provide as a city — a loyalty to fire, streets, and police — but we really can’t speculate on why,” said Speaks.
The next step is putting together a communication plan to help council share information with Oberlin residents.
Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.