Thursday, September 7, 2006

Jon Cheston and the Belfast Shopping Survey

The Republican Journal has gotten ahold of the Belfast Retail Review Commission's survey results, which commission member Jon Cheston tried to hide from the eyes of the public (despite their being public information). No wonder. A fairly decisive majority of respondents to the survey were against his position.

When asked, "Are you able to buy most everything you need here in Belfast?", 77 said yes while 103 said no.

The next question said, "If not; do you believe that Belfast stores lack adequate..." and then listed specific items.

A total of 87 said Belfast lacks adequate food and supplies; 123 said it lacks enough clothing options; 86 listed the need for household furnishings; 48 felt city businesses do not have convenient hours; and 32 felt it lacked easy access.

Cheston does have a good point that these results are far from a representative statistical sampling, and that the survey was therefore far from scientific. But the commission knew this at the start, when it designed the newspaper survey. A largely self-selected group of respondents won't tell you much about what folks in and around Belfast really think about the issue.

But since the BRRC is a governmental body, every piece of paper it collects in its files is a public document. The public is guaranteed access to those documents by Maine law, unless those documents fall into a handful of well-defined categories. Survey results about shopping do not fall into any of those categories. The extreme arrogance that Cheston evidenced in his assumption that the commission should be able to keep this information from the public should instantly exclude him from consideration to any other governmental body.



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