The City of Kansas City has issued a new, new request for proposals to build a new airport terminal or perhaps even renovate the structures there now. This is good news; the process up to this point has moved in fits and starts, and according to one councilman, was “really weird.”
Process matters in public policy. Moving past a fast-track no-bid contract to an open and transparent bidding process is necessary for good decision-making. As a city-wide vote is required, there will be a public campaign on what to do. The public has been wary of the proposal up to this point.
That may be changing. Steve Vockrodt at the Star has authored a piece about a public opinion survey conducted by Remington Research and paid for by Burns & McDonnell, the firm that was to be awarded the no-bid contract before the City Council got involved. Vockrodt wrote:
The latest poll by Remington said 40 percent opposed the single-terminal idea, while 22 percent were unsure.
Those results ticked upward by double-digit percentage points when respondents were told about a Burns & McDonnell plan to privately finance, design and build a new single terminal. Support on that basis grew to 55 percent favoring the proposal, compared to 23 percent against and 22 percent unsure. The polling suggests that respondents warm to a local firm’s involvement in the project as well as a private financing model.
Unfortunately, neither Remington nor Burns & Mac have released the full survey. This is important as surveys can be subject to bias—both intentional and not. Having worked in public and corporate polling for 15 years, I know that opinion research can not only measure public opinion, but be used to influence it. That is why the American Association for Public Opinion Research's (AAPOR) Code of Ethics requires researchers to release, among other things:
The exact wording and presentation of questions and response options whose results are reported. This includes preceding interviewer or respondent instructions and any preceding questions that might reasonably be expected to influence responses to the reported results.
Vockrodt quoted Councilwoman Katheryn Shields as being skeptical of a poll sponsored by a firm that had so much to gain from the debate. She offered, “I’m astonished that a company with the reputation of Burns & McDonnell would continue to needlessly interfere with the bid practices of this city.”
The public has been engaged in the discussion of a new terminal at MCI for at least 4 years. The debate has been less than transparent, and many of the arguments in favor of a new terminal have been proved false. Councilwoman Shields is right: For the sake of good public policy, it is incumbent on all the participants, including Burns & Mac and other applicants, to respect the process.