Meeting Notes:

On Center Stage: The 3rd draft of the Cobalt Survey Questionnaire. 

At the first Call to the Public, several people addressed the question of Cobalt's questionable survey. 

Jim Mulcrone led the charge, laying bare the survey's many deficiencies.  He was followed by Craig WarburtonMike Ciccella, David Gordon, and Lenore Zelenock.   Several of these people said it should be called the Biltmore survey, since it was so narrowly focused.  One suggested that Biltmore should be paying for it.   Mary Devlin asked for a way to reunite our divided community

Below is a video clip of the Board discussion of the Survey Questionnaire.  Bear in mind that this was Cobalt's third draft of the survey.   The discussion lasted about 19 minutes.

In brief, no one liked it.  Although the Board walked right up to the edge of deciding to sever the relationship with Cobalt, they handed the issue back to the Planning Commission.  The cost of severing the Cobalt contract was asked but never answered.  Township Attorney Paul Burns was present but no one asked him.   Severance clauses are pretty standard in contracts.  No one wants to be stuck with a lemon. 

What also became apparent during this meeting was Cobalt's limited interest in our community.  At tonight's meeting we learned that their "budget" allowed for attending only two meetings after the contract was signed.  As far as I know, this detail hadn't been mentioned before.  Because Cobalt attended the July 1st P.C. meeting to discuss objectives, it passed on attending the July 28th meeting in favor of attending the August 5th P.C. meeting.  With that, they apparently consider their obligation fulfilled. 

Let's recap.  Whatever Cobalt hears or believes they hear in two meetings plus whatever suggestions drift in on emails or in private conversations - will form the entire basis for their evaluation of our Township.  That's quite a contrast to the approach taken in the two previous community surveys.  To work out questions for the 1996 survey, Town meetings were held and everybody was encouraged to contribute.  The process was wide open to everyone from the Kiwanis Club to the Brownie troops and Cub scouts.  It was open.  It was patient.  It was not artificially rushed.  The 1996 survey was the result of a lot of hard work and community involvement.   I don't know much about the 2010 survey but it comprised a lot of questions, 20 pages worth.

Here are the 1996 Survey and the 2010 survey (2.3MB).  Check them out.

[My opinion only:]

Cobalt is no fool.  It provided exactly what it believed Northfield Township politicians wanted, to "overcome Community opposition."   Too bad it didn't understand our community as well as it understood the politics.


Despite this, the draft survey questionnaire held up a terrible mirror to those who hurried it through.  The Board didn't like what it saw.


The Board Voted in Beckett & Raeder as our new Planning Consultant.  In the discussion, Trustee Dockett expresses dismay over the choice of Beckett & Raeder.  The P.C. selected McKenna, he said.  Trustee Chick, the Board representative to the Planning Commission, insisted that both firms were acceptable to the P.C..  Why was Beckett & Raeder chosen over McKenna?  It may have been their experience in planning for waterfront communities.  It may have been John Iacoangeli himself, talking about the process and necessity of healing communities divided by debates over development (on Youtube).


The Board also approved a new investment policy.  Maturities are now limited to 24 months.   Why?  To avoid the type of fiscal fiasco left to us by the previous Board of Trustees.  $280,000 lost in six months on a $3,000,000 investment!  I will flesh this out into a complete report later, but for now, here's the Board discussion:


In another discussion, Manager Fink explains how the Whitmore Lake Road special assessment district plans are moving forward.  Attorney Paul Burns mentions in passing that if enough people protest their assessments at the State Tax Tribunal, that financing the S.A.D. will be impossible.  He does not quantify "enough." 


Meeting Preview:

July 28th's Main Event: Cobalt will present its 3rd draft of the Survey Questionaire. 

Is Cobalt seeking the board's approval tonight?  Will the Planning Commission be allowed to review the questions?  This survey was supposedly their initiative.  P.C. Chairperson Chockley today said that the survey still needs tweaking and that it's on their August 5th agenda.  Trustee Janet Chick is also reported as saying this survey needs tweaked.

Preliminary observations from a Township resident and Survey Expert with years of experience in the field of Survey Research.  (his opinions only)

This has major problems. Development is presented as the  option with the only question being how intensive. I'll try and get some more thoughts together, but here are a few:

  • Item 1 mentions nothing about preserving open space or retaining the rural character of the township. Also the first check box is "Encourage more commercial development".
  • Item 2 would be more acceptable if it included something like "Additional development in the township should bear all of the costs of that development."
  • Item 4 has no option for maintaining the current 5 acre minimum or small low-density development. This is an example of development being presented as the only option.
  • Item 6 "If it supports the types of housing needed in the township"  What does this mean!?
  • Item 11 says "... homes to be on lots smaller than one acre ..." That completely ignores the fact that lots could be 1/4 acre. Again, the planning commission is trying to say that the development will be 461 homes when it could be over 1,600.
  • Item 13 is very misleading. The question sounds like it is asking if we should meet our current commitments. I think what is really being asked for is a blank check to expand sewer capacity to meet any proposed development.


Back to Me (I am not an expert):

  • The introduction to question 13 misleads the survey respondant into believing that the cost of improving the existing wastewater treatment plant to serve existing committments is only $2,500,000.  In fact this is only the cost to add a buffer tank to serve existing users, plus 100 or so.  Improving the plant to serve all existing - but unused - committments, mostly in the North Territorial Road district, will require a $15,000,000 - $30,000,000 Sewer Plant Expansion.
  • Question 6 looks like a variation on a classic political dirty trick, the push poll.  The problem here isn't the question: it's the answers you're allowed to choose.  Some of those answers are based on false assumptions, like this one: 
    • "If I may benefit financially, for example, by lower property taxes and fees"

This is nothing more - and nothing less, than an attempt to sell the universally discredited notion that your taxes will go down as costs of government go up.  What they're calling a survey question is actually being used to spread a falsehood.

"What is a push poll? [ from ] Many organizations have posted definitions (AAPOR, NCPP, CMOR, CBS News, Campaigns and Elections, Wikipedia), but the important thing to remember is that a "push poll" is not a poll at all. It's a fraud, an attempt to disseminate information under the guise of a legitimate survey. The proof is in the intent of the person doing it. If the sponsor intends to communicate a message to as many voters as possible rather than measure opinions or test messages among a sample of voters, it qualifies as a "push poll."


Also on the Agenda, a discussion about having the Township buy and develop the Van Curler property on the north side of Whitmore Lake.  This issue was raised at the last Board meeting.  A three minute Youtube clip of that discussion is here.

Click to watch the Meeting on Livestream

Click here to download Meeting Agenda

Click here to download Meeting Packet

Click to download the Meeting Minutes


BTW, I mentioned in a previous post that one of the applicants for the Planning position had some advice on dealing with the struggle between Conservation and Development.  That speaker was John Iacoangeli of Beckett & Raeder.  In the following three minute Youtube clip from his interview, he describes how the process should have happened and what should be done to heal the participants and reduce the antagonism.