Support for the fairness ordinance and education levels

It was brought to my attention that in the City Commission meeting of June 9, Mayor Hunstad raised a concern about the representativeness of our January public issues survey showing that approximately three-fourths of respondents were supportive of a fairness ordinance. He argued that since around two-thirds of respondents had a college education or higher, the survey results are not a valid approximation of the community. Indeed, the U.S. Census reports that only about 26% of Danville residents have a college education or higher. This is indeed an important concern to consider in terms of interpreting the results, but it would skew the estimation of support for a fairness ordinance only if support for a fairness ordinances substantially differs by level of education.

In our survey, here is the breakdown on support for a fairness ordinance by level of education:

  Support Oppose
High school 70.2% 29.8%
College 75.9% 24.1%
Post grad 85.7% 14.3%
Total 76.0% 24.0%

As expected, those with post-graduate degrees are about 15% more supportive of a fairness ordinance. However, those with only high school levels of education who completed the survey were still more than 70% supportive of a fairness ordinance. This implies that the results would not change substantially even if there were more respondents in the survey with less than a college education.

Thus, in the absence of more accurate evidence to the contrary (which is always welcome – more evidence is better than less evidence!), there is little basis to support the argument that the survey results are wildly inaccurate on this question.

Can voters remove a sitting mayor from office in Danville?

Today’s Advocate-Messenger reports that a petition is circulating demanding that Danville Mayor Hunstad resign following his comments toward the LGBT community at the June 9 commission meeting.

Without taking a position one way or another on the merits of such a petition, I’m just going to take a wild guess that he’s not going to accept the petition’s invitation to resign. In that event, is there anything that the petition’s supporters could do to force the resignation of the mayor, or any other city elected official for that matter?

In a word, no. Danville is a third class city under Kentucky law, and KRS 83A.040.9 clearly states:

Except in cities of the first class, any elected officer, in case of misconduct, incapacity, or willful neglect in the performance of the duties of his office, may be removed from office by a unanimous vote of the members of the legislative body exclusive of any member to be removed, who shall not vote in the deliberation of his removal. No elected officer shall be removed without having been given the right to a full public hearing. The officer, if removed, shall have the right to appeal to the Circuit Court of the county and the appeal shall be on the record. No officer so removed shall be eligible to fill the office vacated before the expiration of the term to which originally elected.

In other words, the only way that Mayor Hunstad could be forcibly removed from office is if the other four sitting commissioners vote to remove him. My strong hunch is that there is little desire or motivation for such a move by the other four sitting commissioners. That is very likely a non-starter, unless perhaps the petition is able to gather the signatures of a critical mass of Danville voters – perhaps a third or so of Danville eligible voters (3,000+ signatures, give or take). I would also put that in the “highly unlikely” category.

Note: I’m not an attorney so it’s possible that I misinterpreted the KRS statute or am unaware of a separate provision that would permit such a recall procedure. If such is the case, I welcome any corrections.

2014 Danville Public Issues Survey data file now available

For interested parties, the full dataset from the 2014 Danville Public Issues Survey is now available for download. The data file can be accessed here:

As with other previously-released data files, this is available for examination and analysis by interested parties. Any public documents (blog posts, academic articles, conference papers, newspaper editorials, etc.) produced using this data should cite and reference the poll and its author. Also, the document should include a disclaimer that neither the author nor Centre College are responsible for the interpretations or conclusions of the analysis.

Commission voting and voter issue importance

In a recent letter to the editor, Danville Mayor Bernie Hunstad issued some corrections to a newspaper article that had recently been published about the upcoming Boyle County Republican Judge-Executive primary race.

First, he writes that “our commission has voted together 97-plus percent of the time.” He is generally correct in this assertion, although it’s not quite 97%+. An analysis that I published in 2011 shows that the commission voted unanimously on 80.7% of their votes during the summer of 2010 through summer of 2011. A year later that figure had changed to 82.6% for 2011-2012. The latest analysis published last year shows unanimous voting 87.3% of the time from 2012-2013. Regardless of the exact percentages, Mayor Hunstad is correct in that there is much more agreement than disagreement in the Danville City Commission under his tenure, at least measured in terms of roll call voting by commissioners.

He also writes that “the next board will not likely focus on the number one issue with the voters, which is the creation of better jobs and improvement in our local economy.” This is also correct, as evidenced by our 2012 Boyle County Exit Poll which showed a plurality (30%) of Boyle County voters listing “jobs” as the most important problem facing our local community. 38.3% said the same in the 2011 Exit Poll

Three cheers for epistemic humility

In response to today’s conflicting jobs reports, David Leonhardt explains:

Any one jobs report contains a fair bit of statistical noise, as Neil Irwin and Kevin Quealy have explained. It’s a mistake to pretend otherwise. The best approach is to take all the evidence — both the household and business survey, as well as multiple months of data — and use it all to tell the most sensible story we can, based on the evidence. [emphasis added]

Right now, that story looks something like this: The labor market appears to be gaining strength. But there are enough conflicting signals that we will need more months of data before we can be sure.

I’m a big fan of epistemic humility, especially in today’s world that values certainty and absolutes. One of my guiding philosophical approaches to life is that since all human sources of knowledge are fallible, the closest any of us can get to Ultimate Truth is obtainable only through taking as wide a sample as possible of as many different perspectives as possible on a particular question or topic, then taking a weighted average of them all to try to come to a tentative (although never final) personal conclusion or belief in some truth, whether empirical or otherwise.

Publicly opposing Centre College can potentially be smart politics

In Sunday’s Advocate-Messenger, Danville Mayor and Republican candidate for county Judge-Executive Bernie Hunstad identified Centre College among several groups in the community politically opposed to his candidacy: 

 “I believe I am the underdog in the primary, and I believe I will be the underdog in November,” Hunstad said. “I’m running against Lynn, the EDP (Danville-Boyle County Economic Development Partnership), Centre College, the McKinney supporters and the newspaper.” (Page A01 and A08 of April 2oth’s edition; not yet available online.)

As I interpret this comment, Mayor Hunstad was listing groups in the community that he believes are opposed to his candidacy for Judge-Executive. It occurred to me, though, that perhaps by publicly aligning against each of those groups (including Centre College), it may serve to elicit support from potential Republican primary voters who also view those groups unfavorably.

In the 2011 Boyle County Exit Poll, we asked voters whether they agreed or disagreed that “Centre College gets too many unfair advantages within the city of Danville.” This is a measure of implicit “resentment” toward the College, and 26.5% of respondents indicated that they “agree.” It’s possible that by publicly claiming that the Centre College community is opposed to his candidacy, he may increase his support with the quarter of the community that also harbors unfavorable attitudes toward the college. Given that more than a quarter of Danville harbors implicitly resentful attitudes toward Centre, that’s not a bad political strategy. 

(I should note, though, that there doesn’t seem to be a political relationship with feelings of Centre resentment as 26.6% of Democrats compared to 25.6% of Republicans said that they thought that Centre had unfair advantages in the community – a statistically insignificant difference. So there’s no clear advantage for winning a Republican vs. a Democratic primary by aligning against the College.)

Finally, the 2012 Boyle County Exit Poll showed that about 58% of Boyle County had a favorable view of Judge-Executive Democratic incumbent Harold McKinney while only 14% had an unfavorable opinion (28% DK/no opinion). The same survey showed Mayor Hunstad with a 32% approve/46% disapprove (22% DK/no opinion). Clearly whoever emerges from the Republican primary will face an uphill battle to unseat Judge McKinney in November.

Some final thoughts on the Road Diet issue in Danville

The Advocate-Messenger reported on Wednesday that the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet announced that plans to consider the “Road Diet” option in Danville have been cancelled. The article reports that no one is exactly sure who was involved or how that decision was reached, but reports that it likely came from some high-level official in the Kentucky state government somewhere. 

Here are a few final thoughts I’ve had recently on the recent Road Diet discussion over the past week or two:

First, numerous letters to the editor have made claims to the “will of the majority” on this issue (see here and here, e.g.). Road Diet opponents claimed that they had a “majority” on their side and proponents made similar arguments. Well, they can’t both be true. So who is right? Were the majority of Danville residents in support of or opposed to the Road Diet proposal? From my perspective, the answer is “we don’t know.” No one did a scientific probability survey nor did anyone happen to talk to all 16,000+ Danville residents on the matter. I think there’s good evidence that a majority of downtown business owners were opposed to the Road Diet and that a majority of city and EDP officials were in support. We can also confidently say that a majority of letters to the editor were opposed. But these three groups are not representative of the entire population and are numerically less than 0.5% of all city residents. So any claims to know what a “majority of Danville” thought on the matter cannot be supported with existing evidence and we should be more cautious in our claims about what the “majority” thinks on this issue.

Second, I am very impressed with level of activity with which the downtown business owners organized on this issue. They saw an issue that they were concerned about, they showed up to meetings, they organized petitions, they wrote letters, etc. Although we have no publicly-available evidence one way or another, it’s possible that their efforts either directly or indirectly affected the decision of the state to cancel the Road Diet plan. (It’s also possible that the two were completely unrelated, I don’t have enough information to know either way.) Either way, kudos to them for taking action and participating in democratic self-governance. The lesson for Road Diet proponents is that they should have been quicker to organize and just as vocal if they wanted to have the same level of influence.

Third, (and this is completely a guess – this could be wrong), I imagine that those running for Danville City Commission this fall are relieved not to have to take a public stand one way or another on this issue now that it’s out of their hands. It would be interesting to ask them during this fall’s campaign how they would have voted on this issue if it had been permitted to continue. Mayor Hunstad is the only one (to my knowledge) to have expressed a public stand on the issue.

Fourth, Pam Wright reported in her article: “Numerous other sources claim to believe an individual or small group of individuals had an influence at the state level to stop the decision.” I would urge Ms. Wright, or anyone else for that matter, to try to find out exactly who this “individual or small group of individuals” was and publicize the information. Transparency, openness, and honesty are hallmarks of good government, and from the available evidence it looks like this decision was made in the dark by a few people without public input… exactly the kind of decision-making process that the downtown business owners were originally protesting. Ultimately, this decision was not made in an open, transparent, or “democratic” fashion.