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Friday, March 16, 2012

City Survey Provides and Prompts Questions. Requests response by 03/21 Wednesday.

Recently  3200 registered voters received a Citizen Engagement Assessment ( also referred to as a Citizens' Satisfaction Survey) in the mail.  The City has spent close to $10,000  for the survey and it was mailed to you the Cobalt Community Research. Very possibly you saw and propped it up against a mug or  salt and pepper shakers on your kitchen table.
If yours did not arrive, you don't remember seeing it, or you inadvertently  tossed it  call City Hall or the Survey company. There  are control numbers on the covering letter and the survey itself to be used in such cases. These numbers are used to insure participation. They are not used to identify you. The surveys are returned to the survey company not to City Hall. The City only receives only the results. Not the actual surveys. The proof of that assertion ? Read the contract the City signed with the survey company. It is provided below.
Unless one is very perceptive and attune to city government you may think the survey arrived without   preamble.. Actually the survey draft appeared in an earlier edition of this blog and was mentioned in the last issue of the Hills Highlight the official newsletter of the City  which is reproduced here.
If you have not completed your survey as yet, this weekend would be the ideal time to do so. The covering letter requests that  the surveys be returned by March 21st which is next Wednesday. It also says that the survey, "takes fewer than ten minutes to complete." A careful reading of the survey and responses will actually require more like thirty to 45 minutes.As with any question there is a reason why it is being asked and you should ask yourself what that reason is . Thar even applies to a simple "How are you ?" which sometimes is a greeting and sometimes contains a soon to be apparent  motive of asking you  to drive the kids to soccer or choir practice. Back tracking off the perfunctory"fine" to perhaps an honest explanation that your recovering from illness  is not easy.

The first two and a half  pages contain questions about your satisfaction of livening the City and your perception of the services provided and the quality of life.Questions ask that you agree or disagree.. The last page and a half  is more pointed . You are asked if you will support or oppose possible actions by City Commission. Questions 21, 23, and 24 have been been criticized for providing too little information for  complicated  questions that are beyond the range of  a survey that claims less "than ten minutes" to are necessary to complete.

Regrettably the residents of Bloomfield Hills  were not invited  to provide input or participate in the development of survey questions. According to Mr. William St. Amour the head of Cobalt Community Research and minutes of the January  City Commission meeting, the questions were developed by Commissioner Sarah McClure and City Manager Jay Cravens. They then articulated the question and Mr 
Mr. William St. Amour  formulated the written query. Thus there seems to be  a noticeable "lost in translation" quality to some of the questions.

Three  of the questions in the "support or oppose" category make  reference to proposals, supporters,  or planners,  that is not explained.  . Question 21 asks "Some residents have proposed the construction of a paved pedestrian walkway on Woodward Avenue and Long:Lake  Road.". That prompts the question what residents ?  When ? Such  walkways were suggested  by the City's Consultants in 2007 but City Commission minutes since that date provide no proposals, updates or even discussions on this topic. Question 22 says "As City Planners think about the future development  of  Bloomfield Hills would you support the city planting trees in residential areas ? What City Planners ? What do City Planners have to do with  question which is simply "would you support the city planting trees on the street where you live."  Question 23 states that "As a convenience to voters, and to reduce cost a proposal to move the City elections to November has been discussed."  It has ? By Whom ? When ? The last time City Commission discussed this matter in a meeting where minutes were recorded was 2010. A public hearing was held for just that the topic. At the time residents said they preferred a May election. A switch to November election will require odd year elections which will mean residents will vote every other year instead of annually.The Charter gives the residents only two rights, one of which is the right to elect or reject city commissioners on an annual basis.

Question 24 relates to Question 23 but provides no more information. It asks about changing  the term of office for City Commissioners. A four year term, is the outcome of a switch to a November election date would require. The choice would be four year  terms with staggered terms meaning one set of commissioners are elected in 2013 to serve terms ending in 2017. Another group would serve terms starting in 2015 and ending in 2019.  The alternative, to staggered term  would elect all five commissioners at each and every election. There would be no guaranteed carry over of officers or continuity. In a City governed by only one body, the election of all  five elected city commissioners each , doesn't make sense. Does it ? Any change in the term of office would legally require a Charter amendment which would require the vote of the people. That is the second right of granted by the charter to the residents. The Charter can only be changed by a vote of the people. In the past however some city commissions have chosen to remain unaware of what the charter actually stated.

.Some survey companies say they like to call on the phone at dinner time. Some claim this insures accuracy. Some surveys are based on a sample projected against a whole. Our City Commission, to it's credit, rejected those approaches and insisted that all registered voters (which in some cases involved mailing two or more surveys to a household) receive the survey. It's hard to think about  City Planners thinking about  the future of the City of Bloomfield Hills when the phone rings, a pot is boiling over and the kids or family dog are providing distractions.

Last but not least there are no right or wrong answers to a survey which is a modern (not adjusted for inflation) version of the saying "penny for your thoughts." There is no legal obligation.If the views expressed in a survey are to be made law they would have to be passed as ordinances (which requires an affirmative vote of the the City Commission) or as Charter amendments (which would require an affirmative vote of city residents). In the case of ordinances residents currently elect and or reject  the commissioners who vote on ordinances  on an annual basis. In odd years three of the five are elected.In even years the other two are elected.

 The only problem with "penny for your thoughts" is that it is not as good an offer as "I'd like to get your thinking... Can I buy you lunch ?"

Below is the agreement  City Commission made with Cobalt Community Research. It was published on the City Web sight in  December13th 2011 City Commission Agenda Package.

To enlarge click on document

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