Survey sparks suspicion

Faulty student questionnaire adds fuel to farmers’-market fire

A survey circulated online by the Downtown Chico Business Association asked respondents, “Do you support the current location of the Saturday Farmers' Market?”

A survey circulated online by the Downtown Chico Business Association asked respondents, “Do you support the current location of the Saturday Farmers' Market?”

FILE PHOTO BY Christine G.K. LaPado-Breglia

After completing a six-question online survey designed to gauge downtown Chico business owners’ opinions about the hotly contested location of the Saturday morning Chico Certified Farmers’ Market, Pullins Cyclery owner Steve O’Bryan wanted to make sure his response counted. So he filled out the survey again, and again, and again, until he’d logged his views “at least 15 or 20 times.”

“Vote early and vote often—that’s my slogan,” O’Bryan quipped, repeating a directive often credited to Chicago gangster Al Capone.

The survey was linked to March’s edition of a monthly e-mailed newsletter distributed by the Downtown Chico Business Association, and caused a stir among those embroiled in debate over the market’s location. Market advocates, fearful that the City Council won’t renew a franchise agreement at the end of this year for the parking lot at Second and Wall streets, where the CCFM has been located for 21 years of Saturdays, are currently collecting signatures for a ballot initiative to put the issue before voters and obtain a six-year agreement at the location.

O’Bryan’s immediate concern about—and criticism of—the survey is the fact that anyone can follow the nonsecured link and enter as many anonymous votes as they want: “Since I have my ideas about the farmers’ market and other folks have their ideas, the survey would be totally inaccurate, because anyone with the time and inclination could vote as many times as they wanted to try to sway the results,” he explained.

Other respondents found the same fault with the survey, and also expressed concerns over the source of the questionnaire—which was signed by “Anna Guiles, Intern, City Manager’s Office, City of Chico”—as well as how the results will eventually be used.

Karl Ory, former Chico mayor and an organizer with Friends of the Farmers’ Market, the organization spearheading the initiative campaign, was also critical of the survey’s wording.

“It starts by saying ‘there is a discussion among the Chico community about the relocation of the market,’” Ory said. “Well, there’s also a lot of discussion in the community about giving the market a long-term lease and leaving it alone, so it seems like kind of a weighted way to phrase it, because here again the focus is on us moving the market.”

As it turns out, the purpose of the email is not part of an anti-market plot, nor did it originate in the City Manager’s Office; rather, it’s a component of one college student’s senior project.

Guiles is a Chico native working toward a degree in public policy analysis at Oakland’s Mills College. She worked as an intern in the City Manager’s Office last summer, and said she still maintains her intern status while away at school. The survey, which Guiles now realizes is flawed and is currently being revamped, is part of her senior thesis project, and one of three surveys she eventually intends to distribute to people on both sides of the market debate.

“I’m also in contact with farmers’ market Manager [Amber Suppus] and am hoping the board of directors will allow the farmers to participate in a survey I’ve designed for them to voice their opinions concerning this issue as well,” Guiles said.

She explained the project is entirely her own design and has nothing to do with any entity at the city of Chico, though she said she plans to provide the results to the City Manager’s Office, as well as any other interested parties.

“There was definitely an oversight and I’m taking it very seriously,” Guiles said of the fact that respondents can submit multiple answers. While the old survey was still online as of Tuesday, Guiles said any information collected from it will be scrapped. She said she’s already finished the new survey, which is awaiting approval from her school’s human research protocol committee.

Though somewhat removed from the stir the survey caused, Guiles said she’d received several emails about its re-voting flaw, as well as inquiries regarding its source and purpose.

“I think I’m being transparent in saying that I’m an intern, but recognize the concern,” she said. “In my revised copy, it will be made clear this is part of my senior thesis and not ordered from the city manager.”

Melanie Bassett, executive director of the DCBA, said she’d met Guiles while she was an intern last summer, and agreed to distribute the survey as a favor to her and not at the request of the City Manager’s Office. Bassett also said the DCBA will circulate a revised survey once it’s completed.