Public Opinion and Mammoth Politics

Should local government try to control surveys of public opinion? A touchy subject in Mammoth Lakes, but the Town Council considered the Planning Commission’s idea to look at new ways to gauge public views.

Officials pointed to the controversy of the Clearwater project and the clash of public perspectives as one reason to think harder about opinion surveys. Community Development Director Mark Wardlaw told the Council that “the Planning Commission thinks that the information gathered in surveys is important, but they believe we need a more formalized way of doing them.” The recommendation on the table was to hire outside consultants to conduct future surveys, but in light of the current budget situation that idea was met with mixed feelings.

Councilman Skip Harvey said that the Town should direct staff to come up with the survey criteria and then do surveys once or twice a year. Citing her formal training as a scientist, Mayor Wendy Sugimura stated that she would be in favor of hiring a consultant to design and conduct the surveys.

Community member Leigh Gaasch, who has become known for the surveys she conducts and hands to Town officials to read, stated that she hoped Council would not take away the community’s freedom of speech.

“Even if you don’t agree with what someone’s survey says, you can’t tell the community to stop doing these surveys,” Gaasch said. “What you should do is just give the community some guidelines as to how to better conduct surveys in the future.”

Council agreed that guidelines should be set up, but stated they were not trying to take away anyone’s freedom of speech. Council voted to take no action on the topic at this time.

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