Task force starts questioning

After two meetings, the citizen’s task force to determine livability issues surrounding the proposed Kitsap County NASCAR racetrack is finding a comfortable rhythm and has improved its interviewing skills.

The task force is composed of 12 volunteers who say they haven’t yet formed an opinion in support or opposition to the idea. Their mission is to contact people who live adjacent to existing racetracks elsewhere around the country and ask them to describe specific ways the facilities have affected their lives.

A report of the results will be presented to the Kitsap County commissioners in early February.

The rough edges were especially apparent at last Thursday’s initial meeting.

Both interviewers and interviewees were scattered and nervous in spots, and the questions were often scattered. By the end of the evening, however, the process visibly improved.

“We were a little hesitant at first, but by the end of the night we got it down pat,” said task force member Jim Sommerhauser. “Interviewing is a subtle art. And even those who are very practiced at it can turn the interviewee off. So if we’re stumbling, they may feel a bit more comfortable.”

The process evolved organically, from one call to the next. After the first call the interviewee’s age was a standard question but was later dropped for a caller who may not have reacted well to that particular query.

And while interviewers operated from a detailed questions script, they added or subtracted queries as they saw fit.

“The important thing is to keep people talking,” said task force facilitator Terrie Battuello. “It’s OK if you don’t ask them every question.”

All four of the first night’s interviewees were positive about the track, saying it brought a lot to the area, helped the economy and didn’t cause excessive traffic problems.

This was questioned by the lone member of the public in attendance, Walter Johnson of Poulsbo. Johnson didn’t believe the callers were chosen at random, saying that it looked like Battuello pre-screened interviewees who supported the track.

He suggested the task force should call people directly out of the phone book, with no warning to the interviewee.

Battuello at first said this was impractical, that the task force could make several calls before reaching someone who agreed to talk.

Nevertheless, a previously scheduled caller did not answer on Saturday morning so the task force made a cold call to someone from its phone lists. They were pleased with the result and may repeat that strategy in the future.

The task force acquired phone lists from a marketing company, for homes within a 10-mile radius of six different track locations.

After Johnson left, Battuello spent several minutes explaining the procedure, saying she only asked people if they were willing to talk and did not ask their preferences.

Nevertheless, the task force decided to stress its neutrality from here on in, making sure interviewees knew their negative comments would be taken into consideration.

Battuello said the positive slant represented a natural response.

“If someone called you from out-of-state and wanted to know about Kitsap, you would naturally stress its positive traits,” she said. “You want your community to look good to people in other places.”

The task force will meet again Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings, with most meetings taking place in the parks district conference room near the fairgrounds.

While meetings are open to the public they do not allow public participation.

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