[Meeting report]

Four Northfield Neighbors spoke up at tonight's meeting.

Real Estate Agent Dale Brewer again argued against Nowatzke Trucking's plans.

No one spoke in favor of tossing away the Master Plan.

Northfield Neighbors at the Microphone

This meeting began with discussion of Carlisle/Wortman's resignation.

Commissioner Sam Iaquinto did his best to smear the issue.  He muttered vaguely about Carlisle/Wortman's rate increase.  He didn't mention that the asked for rate increase was only 2.5%.  He didn't mention that it would have been the first rate hike since 2009.  He didn't mention that he himself voted to approve the 2009 contract rate and that he's never complained about it.  He doubled down by stating that Carlisle/Wortman resigned because they could not compete on price. 

The full irony of Iaquinto's crude attempt to frame the issue surfaced later in the meeting, when Chockley mentioned that the bids to replace C/W had come in considerably higher than C/W's revised rates.

Commissioner Dignan piled on.  He accused C/W of trying to elevate their own agenda over the wishes of those in power in this Township.  He accused the planner of abandoning his duties.  He questioned Carlisle/Wortman's motives, methods, ethics, and record of serving the Township.

Chairperson Chockley strenuously objected to both characterizations.  She said Carlisle/Wortman was looking out for the Township Citizens and was scrupulous in following the master plan.  She defended both Carlisle/Wortman and Planner Doug Lewan's motives, methods, ethics, and record.

She also pointed out that both Iaquinto and Stanalajczo approved the three year old Master Plan they now want to tear down.

Carlisle/Wortman Discussion

Next came the Planning Commission discussion with Sharlan Douglas of Douglas Communications Group.  DCG is the Royal Oak Public Relations firm that Cobalt subcontracted to create and perform the survey.  She is a Royal Oak City Commissioner.  Her list of ten objectives appears in tonight's meeting packet.  Scroll down to read or download the list.

Consideration of Land Preservation and Conservation do not appear on Douglas' list of objectives.   Farmland didn't get a mention.  Nor did natural resources, open space, or the existing master plan.  Neither did evaluating the willingness of residents to paying for the services, like the costly sewer systems necessary for dense development.  Douglas advanced a bizarre notion of trying to hide the central question, that of development vs land preservation, behind neutral terms that informed no one.  Is this how Douglas' PR firm "overcomes community opposition?"  By making the questions so vague that the answers can be spun to prove whatever someone wants to prove?

Commissioner Brad Cousino defended directly addressing the issue of development vs preservation, as did Chockley.

There was a brief consideration of adding a few questions about the school system, since we're already paying $17K for the survey.  Commissioner Ken Dignan discussed the advantages of siting development close to the schools, allowing kids to walk to school instead of being bussed.  Ken volunteered to ask the Whitmore Lake school board for input.  

Cousino asked if she couldn't add questions about desireable Township services, such as trash collection.  He said Township residents pay the highest taxes of anyone around here. One trash hauler would be easier on the road system than four.

Cousino also asked how long the survey would be, since most people ignore surveys, especially long surveys.  Four pages was Douglas' answer.  She offered to write a press announcement.  Iaquinto offered to put it in the Courant.  Chick offered to put it on the Township website.

Douglas will return with her list of survey questions at an upcoming Board meeting.  Whether this will be a joint Board/PC meeting is undecided.

So far what we've heard in public meetings are vague notions, hopes, and dreams of what the survey will be like or prove. There is a strong undercurrent of haste.  Despite liking the idea of adding questions about schools, Dignan voted to move the process forward.  Douglas insisted on approval by the end of this meeting and the P.C. went along with it.

We can all sympathize with her hustling for business, but hey, this affects our future.

Cobalt Survey Objectives discussion

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The proposed survey objectives.

Later in the meeting the "advantage" of 2 to 2/12 acre zoning in the Ag district was raised by Trustee/Commissioner Janet Chick.  All the neighboring townships are doing it, it seems.  Discussion ensued.  (Later, at the second call to the public, Dale Brewer (a real estate guy, I think) said he knew several large local property owners who would be happy to divvy up their land that way.)  This issue is up to you to talk about.

I suspect that Trustee Chick is seeking a compromise.  2 1/2 acre zoning is about one tenth the density Biltmore has asked for. 


The low point of the meeting was when Stanalajczo started banging on the table (figuratively) about bylaws and regulations.  He objected to Chockley's original cancellation of the July 1st meeting.  Chockley responded saying that there was no business to transact and no applicants.  Stanalajczo said that there were many policy issues to discuss and resolve.  He said they had a rulebook full of bylaws and few were being followed and no one was performing their appointed duties.  He said that the decision to cancel a meeting should have been a commission decision.  Sam Iaquinto joined in the fun, insisting that regulations and rules were made to be followed.  It reminded me of the bad old days of the 2009-2012 board when Iaquinto joined Stanalajczo in harassing then supervisor Mozurkowich in 5 hour meetings that were painful to watch.

Other Discussions:

The interviews of the replacement planning consultant will probably be held at a future joint P.C./Board meeting.

Commissioner Iaquinto raised the issue of having the Township buy the Van Curler property and develop it "ourselves."  The Van Curler property is just about everything in the north hamlet area that isn't being used.  The large grassy area where people park during fireworks is the largest part of it, but it also includes several residential lots, including those on main street that were demolished.  Van Curler himself is dead.  If you want to know more about it, ask Trustee Wayne Dockett.


[Meeting background]

Carlisle/Wortman, our Township planner for more than 10 years and the most highly respected Community Planning firm in the area, has quit the Township.

Who knows what this will mean, but it isn't good.  The Board of Trustees has some questions to answer.

The backstory:  After working for the same rates since 2009, Carlisle Wortman asked for a 2.5% hourly rate increase and a $50/month retainer increase.  This request appeared in the 5/12/2015 Manager's report.  At the May 12 Board meeting, Supervisor Engstrom seized this as an opportunity to formally open the planning consultant position to new applicants.  Loyalty, quality of service, and knowledge of the issues be damned.  The idea was approved and the Requests for Proposals (RFP) were due June 26th.

[Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly attributed to a Planning Commissioner the idea of abandoning Carlisle/Wortman.  We apologize for the error.]

If cost had really been the issue, look at the May 26th meeting.  Howard is lining up everyone in the office and at the Wastewater Treatment Plant for another annual raise.

Below is Carlisle-Wortman's resignation letter.  Its implicit warning reminds me of President Eisenhower's final speech, informing Americans about a danger to America's way of life, addressing the Military-Industrial Complex.  Nothing on that scale is happening here.  But it certainly feels that weighty.  We face an active threat to our Northfield Township way of life. 

Since Carlisle/Wortman Planning Consultant Doug Lewan sat in on some of the closed door meetings Township Manager Fink held with whomever he met with behind closed doors, Lewan's final words are informing and a warning:

"It is clear to us that Northfield Township would like to move

in a different direction with regard to planning and zoning."

These were meetings we didn't hear about until well after the fact, if at all.

Lewan's resignation:

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Here's something to think about while watching this meeting between Cobalt and the P.C..  At the May 26th Board meeting, Fink anticipated criticism for the way he wrote the RFPs for a Township Planner.  When Wayne Dockett asked him who might be critical, Fink called the argument over whether to trash the Master Plan a Growth/No Growth debate.  This is misrepresentation as well as a false dichotomy.  But no Board member corrected him.  This shows the deep and blinding bias on the part of Board members.

 Township Manager Howard Fink: "Growth/No Growth debate" - May 26, 2015

FYI: The July 1, 2015 PC meeting was originally cancelled by Chairperson Chockley, due to lack of business.

Later, the meeting was un-cancelled at the June 23 Board meeting.  Manager Fink insisted that the PC un-cancel the meeting to discuss survey objectives and questions with Cobalt.  (So much for the rumor that the PC controls this process.)

Holding this as a special meeting adds a thousand dollars to the survey cost.  Discussions about long term policy are not pressing or urgent.  The PC Chair normally saves Taxpayer money by piggybacking policy discussions onto meetings handling the regular flow of PC business.  Politics as usual... what one person saves, another fritters away.

Click to watch the Meeting on Livestream

Click to download the Meeting Agenda

Click to download the Meeting Packet

Click to download the Meeting Minutes (when available)

For reference, what an unbiased survey looks like, the 1996 Township Survey Report:

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[Correction and apology: this was not a joint meeting.]  A joint session was discussed at the close of the June 23 Board meeting but no date was set.  That was the source of my confusion.  How could I be so wrong?  Easy.  I've watched and rewatched so many meetings on livestream that they're blurring together.  Verifying anything that occurs or is said in meetings takes another two hours so out of my life.  If I'm lucky, the info is in the official minutes or the minutes will point to an approximate location within the meeting.  But that location is relative to other Agenda items.  I listen to a lot of talk-talk to locate what I'm looking for.

To make matters more difficult, some conversations don't make it into the minutes.  Carlisle/Wortman's small rate hike was discussed twice in the May 26 meeting, but only the second discussion appears in the minutes.   That first discussion is when Supervisor Engstrom threw away the Township's relationship with Carlisle/Wortman. That discussion begins about 1hr 22 min into the livestream of the May 12, 2015 meeting.]

Adding to the problem are delays in publication of minutes on the township website.  Planning commission minutes haven't been posted since the May 6th meeting.  They can be extracted from the packets assembled for subsequent meetings but they're not on the township web site, as of today, July 2.