What’s the big secret?

by Noëlle McAfee

Soon the Special Design Review Committee (SDRC) of the Civic Association of Hollin Hills will survey the community on its views on the design review guidelines. Several members of the civic association have asked that the questionnaire be posted before it is finalized. The idea is that the entire community should be able to see the questionnaire in advance — and have an opportunity to suggest revisions. One person has volunteered to do the labor of putting it on the civic association’s web site. But as of tonight, those involved have said “no” to these requests. What’s the big secret? If there’s no secret, why can’t civic assciation members see the questions? Anyone who has been involved with survey research knows how crucial it is to frame questions appropriately — and even how important the ordering of the questions is. It is truly unfortunate, to put it mildly, that the membership of the organization is being kept in the dark.

Some worry aloud that a process cannot work if everyone in the civic association has a hand in every decision. This worry has its place. But going to the other extreme is even more worrisome. The truth is that not everyone will want to weigh in; most people may well be happy with letting their representatives handle things. But most people also want to be able to see what is going on, in plain view, especially when asked.

What do others think about this?

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10 Responses to “What’s the big secret?”

  1. kathy Says:

    geez! just let everyone see what’s going on!

  2. Richard Seltzer Says:

    The membership elected the Board to do a job. The Board appointed the Special DRC to also do a job. The SDRC outlined a plan to carry out that job and is executing it. Instead of second-guessing everything and all that the Board and the SDRC does, lets wait until the job(s) they were tasked to do are complete before passing judgement. If they fail, then elect a new Board.

    Note, for the sake of full disclosure, I am a member of the current Board.

  3. Noelle McAfee Says:

    Thanks for your thoughts, Dick. The unspoken premise in your argument is that wanting the community to be able to see and comment on the SDRC questionnaire is equivalent to (i) passing judgment on the elected and appointed officials and (ii) not respecting that they were duly elected and appointed to do their job. I disagree. Personally, I think there is no incompatibiliy between (a) a representative process and (b) opportunities for the general membership to also deliberate on the issues and offer their views. In any well-functioning democratic society, (b) allows for the development of public opinion that can be used by (a). I think much of the tension of the past several months results from a misunderstanding — that any input from the membership is an implicit criticism of those eleccted and appointed to carry out civic association business. Please, that’s not going on. Can we put this mispercetion to rest? The membership can debate matters, raise issues, suggest changes and still fully support the mandate given to the Board and various committees.

  4. Linda Hesh Says:

    Isn’t it better to find out about problems while they can still be fixed? The survey committee is not made up of experts who write surveys for a living (at least we haven’t been told that). Why wouldn’t the SDRC want to vet the survey beforehand so that anything that might be disturbing could have the possibility of being changed? If there are problems they will come out sooner or later and sooner seems better to me. This is not an insult to the Board or the SDRC. If we had paid a company to write the survey, we would look at the product and point out any problems before accepting it and paying. We hired a lawyer to write and opinion, and then sent it back asking for more.

  5. A HH Resident Says:

    As a community member that couldn’t attend the Special Meeting, is there any synposis of the meeting? Both here and the hollinhills.org site refer to lots was said, but no meeting synopsis or next steps etc. I am unaware of any mechanism to get the minutes or comments on the meeting itself.

  6. Pam Koger-Jesup Says:

    Speaking as a survey professional who spent more than 15 years designing, writing and analyzing surveys, I can tell you that yes indeed survey wording and question order ARE important. However I don’t believe that opening the survey up to modification and comment from 460 households (or even the 5% who may contribute comments) will create a survey document that is more effective than that which has been thoughtfully and painstakingly designed by our SDRC.

    Instead, I think that inviting the entire community to comment on the survey is likely to introduce “respondent bias” into the data collected.

    At least two survey professionals are participating either on the committee or in the review process. The SDRC has taken their work VERY seriously. The community is putting them in a situation of being damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If they DON’t open up for everyone’s comments, then they are hiding things, and are producing an inferior survey. If they DO open up for everyone’s comments then they are taking too long to complete the process.

    If you have questions that you would like to have considered for the survey, SEND THEM IN to the board or the SDRC. Otherwise, have your say when you receive the survey…there will be plenty of room to write all the comments you would like on the survey.

    Pam Koger-Jesup
    CAHH VP

  7. barbara ward Says:

    Wwhile you state that you do not intend to undermine the community atmosphere of Hollin Hills, your large font headline “What’s The Big Secret” says otherwise.

    There is no “secret” (as your headline proclaims). The CAHH Board and the DRC Study Group seriously considered the request that the DRC questionnaire first be posted on the web site for the purpose of soliciting comments on the nature of the questions. Our decision was not a repudiation of the democratic process, nor an attempt to act in secret but came after much thoughtful input from all viewpoints.

    There were two arguments that I found most persuasive. First, the DRC Study Group represents a cross-section of the community views and these volunteers have spent several months of their time putting the questionnaire together. Moreover, we are incorporating past questionnaires which dealt with the same issue (yes, we have been here before) and the study group has had some more professional help in assembling the questions. In sum, the questionnaire represents all views, provides space for comments on any issue that was not raised and, is very close to being ready to be sent out to the community.

    Second, it was not simply a matter of posting the questionnaire. After posting, the DRC Study Group would have to spend time reviewing and considering the comments. We could not assume that no one would respond, or only one or two people. Given these circumstances, we determined to go forward.

  8. Noelle McAfee Says:

    Barbara, You’re right:  shame on me for writing a headline that is so charged and divisive. I apologize to all. In the piece itself I wrote about what I think was the real matter: that the Board and the SDRC decided it was ill-advised to post the questionnaire. Pam’s informative comment above explains the thinking. Thank you, Pam, for this insight. As to those points, and others that Barbara raises, here are a few more questions: (1) How would “inviting the entire community to comment on the survey” likely introduce “respondent bias”? (2) Why couldn’t the questionnaire be posted and then comments invited for just a few days? (3) Isn’t it possible that the community at large might be able to provide useful ideas? (4) Couldn’t this process fall under the SDRC’s role of getting community input?

  9. Richard Seltzer Says:

    Noelle,

    Good questions. That is why the SDRC is doing a survey. We (they) are looking for “useful ideas” and “community input”. What better way than to survey folks.

    Instead of delaying the survey, why not get the word out to all HH folks to take serious the survey (be it perfect ot not) and provide insightful, thoughtful responses. If they do not like the format of the questions (though as I understand it, there are several open ended questions), then the respondents should feel free to use the survey instrument as a mechanism in which they can convey all the additional comments they want. In actuality (no, I am positive) that the SDRC will take all responses seriously — be they actual responses to the survey questions or additional responses written on the back of the survey form or supplemental responses to questions that you and others feel the SDRC should have asked.

    The issue is really not the actual survey instrument (in my opinion) but rather using the survey process to gather HH “community input”or “useful ideas”.

    Regards,

    Richard

  10. Michael Hentges Says:

    I started my day with an email chestnut — sending mail to an unintended recipient, the HollinHillsForum, instead of privately to someone who posted to a recent HHF email.

    I will try to be as intentionally blunt here as I was, inadvertently, there. I also want to apologize to my intended recipient; the tenor of my response was not as generous or as gracious as his, and it was inappropriate to tie his calm words with my heated reflex. My own ill-considered feelings may be just what I find so aggravating about our recent hubbub.

    There may be some legitimate and valuable concerns being raised in our community — some by folks who may not have yet had an opportunity to meet, know, and appreciate other folks with generations of unselfish contributions to this place — but I have found some of the challenges to the good intentions of the board and DRC to be graceless, if not insulting. Folks are taking personal offense at procedures that are human, fallible, and possibly inefficient with the safeguards of being democratic. Individuals meet with community concerns after full days of work and family responsibilities, with impressive abilities whether professionally trained in their tasks or not. I am impressed by the diplomacy and courtesy, as well as the patience, of many of the volunteers whose work has been questioned as less than altruistic. Last Tuesday’s CAHH meeting should have been enough to convince any sceptics that the people who do the work around here are willing to overlook rudeness and discourtesy and address any real underlying issues that merit attention. I’ve got to say I admire their restraint.

    There is an odd subtext that suggests that unless your yard is an unmodified Kiley, or your cabinets are not sainted Charles, or that your motivations are not centered from within some sacred architectural grove, that you don’t have a right to take certain aesthetic or committee positions. Questionnaires can be structured malevolently to skew results, but I’d save my conspiracy theories for the machinations of bigger governments and better-paid lobbyists that we have working for the powers that be in Hollin Hills. I realize that the charge about the questionnaire has since been tempered, but these challenges are flung recklessly. Is my structured adverb any less overblown?

    This is a community. Human diversity, not architectural homogeneity, is our most valuable resource, and when we start throwing over considerations for the people next door for the integrity of their renovation, we can stop worrying about property values, because it won’t be worth living here.

    Almost every block (if we had blocks) in Hollin Hills has an example of what one sensibility or another would call a stinker, but my castle smells sweet to me and I’d bet I’m not alone. I’m for assuming good intentions and common courtesy.


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