2nd Planner Washes Hands of Northfield Government!

Before we begin:

 If you want to feel good about this Community, use this LiveAgenda (click it) to watch your neighbors speak at the first and second Calls to the Public.  In their voices and their words you will find wisdom, eloquence, a deep love and committment to living life here in Northfield Township.  These are your neighbors, your friends.  You can feel the heart of your Community in these speakers.

[Meeting Report - revised Thursday, January 21, 2015]

Busy? Click here to watch the parts of the meeting you have time for with a LiveAgenda

Our brand new Township Planning Consultants, Beckett & Raeder, and their representative, Leah DuMouchel, have resigned.  Only four months after being hired, they have washed their hands of Northfield Township.  

That's the second Planning Consultant to quit in six months.  DuMouchel, the soul of professional decorum, said only that "it was not a good fit."

"Houston, we have a problem."

What did the Board do about it tonight?  Nothing. 

Township Manager Howard Fink, the man at the bottom of this debacle, tried to appear on top of the situation.  Hurry hurry.  Fink said he had already reached out to McKenna, the Planning Commission's other finalist candidate for the planning position filled four months earlier by Beckett & Raeder.  Fink asked for Board approval to begin negotiating a contract with McKenna.  Hurry hurry.  No time to discuss what just happened again.  Hurry, hurry.

By meeting's end, Supervisor Engstrom and Manager Fink had done their best to frame criticism of their performance as personal attacks, as "negativity."  Given the context, it was a remarkable display of chutzpah.

Engstrom had opened this meeting by removing the two Planning Commission appointments from the Agenda.  Otto and Chick objected, referring to agreements on appointments policy from early in this Board's tenure.  Engstrom "smiled" them off. 

What you can't see on this page is the public's reaction.  The meeting audience was filled with Applicants for the Planning Commission openings.  They had sacrificed their evening to take part in discussing the appointments.  Engstrom had "smiled" them off too and they knew it.

The Call to the Public speakers were focused.  Dr. Ed Wojtys led off, asking for an explanation and an apology from Manager Fink. He received none.

The Board raced through the Agenda items, pausing for breath only when they reached item 8, the Planning Consultant Contract. 

Trustees voted to give Fink the go-ahead to begin contract negotiations with McKenna and Associates, the second of two finalists chosen on July 15, 2015 by the Northfield Township Planning Commission [LiveMeetingMinutes].

Beckett & Raeder was the other finalist, the PC's second choice.  At the July 14th Planner Presentations meeting, Beckett & Raeder manager John Iacoangeli [LiveMeetingMinutes] had delivered a stirring speech about Healing Divided Communities [LiveVideo] with the Master Planning process.   Everybody loved the speech and that is why - I believe - Beckett & Raeder was chosen over McKenna - and over the Planning Commission's wishes.

Who is McKenna?

The meeting ended with a couple of nice comments from the public.  David Perry congratulated the Board and the PC for approving the rezoning of the Whitmore Lake Preserve/Nature Park.  

Following that, during Board member comments, Howard Fink spoke for a full 12 minutes.  He did not offer a plausible explanation of why two Planners in a row had quit the Township.  He did not try to reconcile his December 8th accusation of unprofessionalism [LiveVideo] on the part of Planner DuMouchel with the testimony of ex Planner Doug Lewan.  Lewan said that what DuMouchel's firm did was professional, absolutely standard planning industry practice, and that the Township had been paying Lewan's firm on those terms for the past ten years.  Instead, Fink did his level best to paint criticism of his performance as personal attack, as "negativity." 

Supervisor Engstrom joined in with a few crocodile tears of her own. 

Neither Official accepted responsibility.


  • Click here to watch the parts of the meeting you have time for with the LiveAgenda
  • Click here to watch Manager Fink's "Checkers" Speech
  • the other links, to meeting agenda, packets, the PC applicant's letters, etc, are below


[Meeting Preview]

Let's recap DuMouchel's brief but illuminating tenure.

At the September 16th PC meeting [Meeting Report] [LiveAgenda] [LiveMeetingMinutes] DuMouchel presented her analysis of the 1996 and 2010 Community Surveys.  DuMouchel concluded that the views of township residents were already well represented by the two surveys.   Her conclusions:

  • The previous surveys were constructed well enough to offer actionable data.
  • Resident priorities have been broadly determined.
  • The top three priorities are natural features, downtown development, and recreation.
  • Residential development does not appear to be a strong enough priority to justify amending the master plan at this time.
  • Specific questions remain for which community input would be valuable.
  • Community engagement tools other than a survey may be more appropriate to gather that particular data.

 This means that most of the questions have already been answered.  Attitudes toward preservation and development had changed little over the fifteen years separating the two surveys.  It is unlikely that opinions have changed in the five years since the 2010 survey.  She recommended stopping the survey project in its tracks.

That went over like the proverbial lead balloon.

At the following PC meeting, October 7th [Meeting Report] [LiveAgenda] [LiveTranscript] DuMouchel was bullied, cut off, and insulted by several Planning Commissioners and by Manager Howard Fink himself.  It was the ugliest meeting since the 2008-2012 Board set the standard for dysfunction, rancor, and bullying.  October 7th was also the meeting where Howard Fink introduced the possibility of reducing the number of votes needed to change the Master Plan.

The first sign that an actual hatchet job was in the offing arrived during the conclusory phase of Howard Fink's December 8th dog and pony show [LiveMeetingMinutes].  During Board member comments Trustee Chick asked [LiveVideo] if Beckett & Raeder were allowed to bill for speaking to a private citizen.  Fink said no.  He admitted that there had been no policy in place.  He then proceeded to emphasize and reemphasize the degree to which he was deeply disturbed, troubled, etc., about the issue.  Given the chance to follow up publically, at the December 16th PC meeting [LiveAgenda], Fink said nothing.  This was also the meeting where DuMouchel recommended in the strongest possible terms that the PC preserve its current standard, the supermajority vote needed to change the Master Plan. 

Now DuMouchel and Beckett & Raeder have walked away from the Township, the second Planning Firm to dump Northfield Township in six months.

The other item of interest on tonight's agenda will be appointments of new or reappointment of existing planning commissioners.  There are half a dozen applicants represented in tonight's meeting packet.    You may view or download their applications by here.  Rumor has it that Supervisor Engstrom will try to delay the vote until Trustee Wayne Dockett returns from his extended vacation.


  • Busy? Click here to watch the parts of the meeting you have time for with a LiveAgenda
  • Click here to view or download the Meeting Agenda
  • Click here to view or download Manager Fink's letter about Beckett & Raeder's resignation
  • Click here to view or download the Applications for the Planning Commission vacancies (2.5MB+)
  • Click here to view or download the Meeting Packet add-ons: Manager's Report, Ordinance info
  • Click here to view or download the entire Meeting Packet (10+MB)
  • Click here to watch the entire meeting the old fashioned way on Livestream