The quote “Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable” is attributed to Mark Twain. The Town of Southampton Housing Plan survey on the town website is an example of how data input can be manipulated to “manage” the data output.
I use the following analogy: When a self-serving committee leader has a vested interest in donuts, he/she asks committee members: “What kind of donuts do you want at tomorrow’s meeting?” He/she hopes that no one will question why there is a need for donuts. Committee members are fooled into believing that an unbiased survey has occurred and are thankful for the opportunity to participate, when, in reality, the data are used to validate and corroborate the self-serving leader’s own agenda.
The multiple-choice answers provided in the housing survey conspicuously omit the choices for “no additional housing” and “none of the above.” The residents and single-family homeowners of Hampton Bays and other unincorporated Southampton Town hamlets have voiced their concerns about residential density and the urbanization of their communities for years, and the strain it places on the infrastructure and environment, including the drinking water supply, wastewater discharge, school enrollment, traffic and community character.
Answer choices of “no new housing” and “none of the above” should have been included in the survey to accurately reflect the desires of the community. In fact, it is reported that a “none of the above” option is best practices for surveys in order to avoid ambiguous data output.
How many times does the Southampton Town Board need to be reminded that the aquifers are the only source of our potable drinking water? But I digress.
During the August 18 Hampton Bays virtual public forum, when participants raised the issue about the “no additional housing” or “none of the above” choice, the forum panel — which included Town Board members; Diana Weir, director of housing; and employees of the consulting firm retained by the Town Board — suggested that participants state the “no additional housing” and “none of the above” in the write-in comment section in the survey, as if that is accurate data collection, especially knowing the concerns of the community.
It was no surprise to me that a grand total of 23 individuals participated in the Hampton Bays virtual public forum. It is inconceivable that during a pandemic, when people are just trying to get through a day and wonder what tomorrow will bring, the Southampton Town administration commences this initiative. Maybe the timing is purposeful, or maybe it is job security, or maybe they just have too much time on their hands with all the social events canceled, but it seems clear to me that they don’t really want the community’s actual input.
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One fine body…