Post #697: Town elections, see Post #508

See Post #508, from January 9, 2020 and earlier, on splitting the vote and political suicide.  My numbers were a little off.  But not much.

Votes Percent
Colbert 1545 43%
Majdi 1172 33%
Springsteen 869 24%
Total 3586 100%

Post #475: Survey

A colleague tried to ruin the last of the holiday weekend for me by asking about the Town’s proposed survey on … MAC-ish, development-ish stuff.  I decided it could probably wait until Monday morning.  In hindsight, I’d say that was the right decision.

You can access a draft of the Town’s proposed survey at the link on this web page.  This survey will be discussed at tomorrow’s (12/3/2019) Wednesday’s (12/4/2019) Town Council work session.

Formally, this item is listed as:

Discuss Draft Commercial Development Survey related to Town Council Directive to draft Amendments to Maple Avenue Commercial (MAC) Zone and Other Commercial Zoning Districts along with Related Amendments

Now, before we go one step further, I need to ask you a question:  Did you actually read all of that block of text above?  Honestly?  Or, by the time you got to the 4th or 5th dependent clause, did you choke and just skip to the end?

I think the agenda item itself sets a clear tone for what follows.

To cut to the chase:  Town Council has decided to ignore the cardinal rule of survey design (Post #415).  And so, whatever happens next, they own it.  This is the Town Council’s survey.

And I give up, meaning, I’m not even going to bother to talk about the details.  As with most of Town staff comportment in this area, all I can say is, if Town Council puts up with it, then, once again, they own it.

Instead, I’m going to stick to the basics, and just count stuff.  Turns out, counting to small numbers is a bit of a lost art in the modern world (e.g., see Post #465). 

The majority of people who read this website do so on phones (as opposed to tablets or computers).  The same holds true of most websites, including the SurveyMonkey website where the Town plans to host this survey.

So this next bit is aimed at you phone users.  I’ve taken the Town’s draft survey — all 2200+ words of it — converted to text, and copied it in below.   So this doesn’t include the graphics, and I haven’t bothered to format it.

What I would like you to do is to count the number of screens, in this ten-minute survey.  Not even asking you to read it.  Just asking you to scroll through, one screen at a time, and count the number of screens in this ten-minute survey.  And just to keep it real, if you don’t actually make it down to the last screen, I’m throwing your answer away and it doesn’t count.  Just as the Town will do with the actual survey.


Continue reading Post #475: Survey

Post #461: Patel proposal to survey Town residents: I’ll let the staff response speak for itself.

There’s a Town Council work session tonight.  On the agenda is an idea from Councilwoman Patel.  The idea is that the Town might routinely include a brief survey in the Vienna Voice monthly newsletter.

This would be a way for the Town to gauge where the average citizen stood on the issues of the day.

The unsigned, un-attributed Town staff response is quite a piece of work.

Maybe my take on this is just my own bias, as I have done surveys as part of my job.  But I think not.  So I’ll ask you just to read the rest of this, and see if you can get a sense for whether this is a fair and even-handed discussion of this proposal.  Assess how much it strives to present an accurate assessment of the pros and cons of this approach.  (Hint:  See if you can find any pros.)

I’m not going to comment other than to make a single technical point.  Mailing a survey to 100% of residents is, by definition, a random-sample survey.  It’s just that the sample rate is 100%.

Here it is, in its entirety.  Literally cut-and-paste.  Here’s the Town staff response, to the idea of asking you what you think, on a routine basis, as part of the Vienna Voice mailing.  You can find it in its original format on this Town of Vienna page.

Councilmembers Want to Know… survey initiative
Staff questions/concerns
• Unlike the National Citizen Survey, which uses random sampling, this type of survey is not statistically valid. (However, over time, data from survey may be quoted/used as if it is statistically valid – people tend to forget that part.)

• Crafting survey questions is a science. It’s very easy to accidentally inject bias into the question or to shape the question to generate the response desired.

• Is Council setting an expectation that all decisions will be made by referendum?

• Issues and decisions that must be made are often complex. Despite educational efforts, some residents will not be aware of all of the intertwined considerations that factor into decision-making.

• The timeline of utilizing the newsletter for monthly surveys is awkward, and data may not be available in timely enough matter to impact some Council decisions. Newsletter deadline is the 10th of the month preceding publication.

Example of how process might work:
o Councilmember questions due to editor December 10.
o Survey published in January newsletter around January 1.
o Deadline for responses? If January 10, could publish results in February issue; if later than that, would have to be in March issue.

• Who will “vet” questions posed? Editor, individual Councilmember, all of Council?

• Who will be responsible for analyzing and reporting data?

• Sets up unrealistic expectations? What if Council chooses to go in a direction that is different from survey results?

• Limited response, especially as time goes on.

• Will survey responses be anonymous or identified? No way to know that hearing from a representative set of voices.

• How will surveys be returned to the Town? Will people make the effort to drop off or mail to Town Hall?

Engagement best practices – “Meeting People Where They Are,” Sept. 1, 2019 ICMA article
• Conducting outreach and surveying using only one communications channel almost guarantees biased results.

• Need to use all outreach methods at our disposal, traditional and virtual, to provide more residents an opportunity to engage.

• Need to meet residents where they are. E.g., pop-up opportunities at events where people can respond to a survey on their phones or provided iPads; outreach at community events.

• Keeping the barrier to participation low means being able to instantly engage: no usernames or passwords, no creating an account.

• Being mobile-minded is one of the best ways to increase engagement.

• Messaging is best when it shows the value that public input will have on the decision-making process. For example: “Your input will help set priorities for our 2040 Transportation Plan.

• While a boots on the ground approach does build relationships, it’s difficult to scale, especially given time and staff constraints.

• The best way to optimize engagement and increase equity is to combine traditional and online outreach into a cohesive process and build a public participation database so you can analyze input, report findings, and make strategic decisions.

• Selectively leverage technology, budget, and staff time.



Post #322: Moving forward (Where do we go from here, part 3).

Quick recap of the facts, in so far as I know them.  Then one additional point that I believe to be a fact, but based solely on my own research.  The conclusion (jump down to that if you wish) seems to be some fairly clear guidance on a way to revise MAC to be more in keeping with what the majority of Vienna residents appear to want. Continue reading Post #322: Moving forward (Where do we go from here, part 3).

Post #259 — a repost of “My endorsements for Town Council and the problem of splitting the vote, 2-7-2019”

The Town elections are coming up this Tuesday, May 7th.  This is a contested race and our polling place may be a little crowded.  You probably ought to have a voting plan, that is, a specific time when you are planning to get down to the Community Center and cast your vote.  I don’t think that waiting until the last minute will be a good strategy this year.

What follows below-the-line here is something I posted back in February.  Things have changed a little since then, but not enough to make me change my vote.  The biggest change is that more-or-less everybody is running against the current MAC rules.  Now everybody wants to see some changes.

That said, I’m voting for Springsteen and the two Ps:  Patel and Potter.  If you care to know why, read what I wrote back in February, below the line further down this page.

What do I hope to see change about Town of Vienna government?   Mostly, I want to hear a straight story. I don’t want to hear that, somehow, Town staff swapped buildings between review by the BAR and approval by the Town Council (Post #245, Post #253).  I don’t want to be told that Vienna has no choice but to complete its rezonings within 100 days, while I can see that nearby towns take up to a year  (Post #247).  I would like the Town to stop telling us how responsive they are to citizen input, while re-writing the rules mid-stream to favor whatever the developers appear to want (Post #227). I don’t want the Town to sell MAC as preserving small town Vienna, then repudiate that small-town portion of the law.  I don’t want them to sell it based on four floors, only to find out that five floors is just fine.

I could go on, but you get the drift. Actual development issues aside, just cutting the crap would be a big improvement.

I’m just going to offer up one more, based on a flyer that landed in my in-box yesterday.

I attend a lot of these meetings, and I cannot count the number of times I have heard Town officials swear that it’s simply not possible to build profitable mixed-use buildings in Vienna with less than four (or is it five?) stories.  Simply not economically possible, people who think it can be done are kidding themselves, and so on.  All stated as fact.

Then this arrives, below.  After all those assurances by various Town officials … the impossible appears to be happening, one block off Maple.

I’m not endorsing this building.  I’m not saying I want this building.  I’m not saying I like or dislike this building.

But this is exactly the sort of thing I’m talking about.  If three-story mixed use development is possible, then let’s acknowledge that and have a reasoned discussion.  Rather than shut down discussion by pre-emptively claiming that it’s impossible.

I guess what I’m saying is, I want people who are a little less bought-into the MAC, and a little more bought-into the facts.  Fact is, as I hear it, the Town is completely aware of this building, as they were aware of the failed Mill Street garage.

The original posting follows.  Not all the details are correct now, but the conclusion is the same.

Continue reading Post #259 — a repost of “My endorsements for Town Council and the problem of splitting the vote, 2-7-2019”


Seriously, we pay them to do this?  Part 2 (Part 1 is here.)

The Department of Planning and Zoning is going to have two “Community Workshops” on MAC zoning.  Originally, at the 2/11/2018 Town Council work session, these had been discussed as if they were, in part, legitimate attempts to gauge community sentiment about MAC.  But anyone who looks at the details of these workshops should realize that’s nonsense.  I’ve already covered that here. Continue reading Seriously?

What do the citizens of Vienna want, 2/8/2019

The Town is, in theory, in the process of revising the guidelines for the look of MAC buildings.  It’s not clear what this is supposed to accomplish, because, first and foremost, these are guidelines.  They aren’t zoning law.  They are voluntary.

But the Town did its visual preference survey, and now they are going interpret the resulting chicken entrails as if they have found out something about what the citizens of Vienna want.  As I have noted, it’s tough to get any information whatsoever out of a visual preference survey.  Doubly so when your survey uses pictures of cute little buildings that have nothing to do with the reality of these large MAC housing projects. Continue reading What do the citizens of Vienna want, 2/8/2019

My endorsements for Town Council and the problem of splitting the vote, 2-7-2019

My small random-sample survey of Town residents suggested that many Vienna residents are ready to vote pro-MAC Town Council members out of office.  (“Suggested”, not “showed”, due to the poor response rate for my survey.) In that survey, a plurality of residents opposed MAC zoning in general.  But people strongly objected to buildings the size of 444 Maple West/Tequila Grande.   Almost two-thirds of survey respondents said they’d vote against any Town Council member who approved buildings that size on Maple. Continue reading My endorsements for Town Council and the problem of splitting the vote, 2-7-2019