RIVERVIEW — The language on a landfill expansion survey sent to Riverview residents was the topic of discussion during the March 21 City Council meeting.
Councilwoman Rita Gunaga said she was disappointed in the wording in the survey. She expected to see a rough draft before the survey went out, but instead saw it for the first time after receiving it in the mail.
Gunaga also said she thought that as a council it was decided to hire an outside company to write an un-biased and factual letter which is not what she read.
“I believe it is factually correct but completely biased in its wording,” she said.
At the beginning of her comments, Gunaga did say she hopes residents received and filled out the survey and that the city gets overwhelming support for expansion.
“It is vital to get this approval from Wayne County to move forward to solidifying our plans to keep Riverview moving towards a financial stable situation both for now and decades to come,” she said.
The council, on Feb. 22, unanimously agreed to award the registered voter survey bid to Cobalt Community Research.
Cobalt, which bid $16,374, sent out a survey questionnaire to every registered voter in the city, with a postage paid return addressed envelope.They will tally the responses returned to them, and present the results to the City Council.
Funds for the survey are available in the land preserve budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year.
Gunaga continued by saying that council members are contacted first by residents when they have an issue most of the time and that she had many conversations about the survey since it began showing up in mailboxes.
“The general consensus is that it was written in an aggressive and threatening manner rather than an informative and educational one,” she said.
Resident April Bieganski talked about the survey which she called “garbage.” She also ripped up the paper before taking her seat.
Bieganski said that when she became a poll worker and was trained by the city clerk, she was taught that campaign material is not allowed at polls.
“This survey was done in lieu of an official vote because you waited one day too late to propose it to put on ballot last year,” she said. “Then that means it should be conducted as a vote and not come with very biased campaign material because what this says is vote yes otherwise you lose this, that, the other thing, and everything else.”
During a Feb. 14 study session, the council members spoke about a survey instead of the ballot question approved by the council last August.
A special election was not scheduled for Riverview in May, so the cost would have been $20,000, and the results would not be ready in time to meet the council’s decision deadline.
If the deadline is not met, the city might have to submit a new application, which requires a $10,000 to $15,000 fee in addition to the election cost.
The council also rescinded its Feb. 7 resolution to place an advisory question about the land preserve on the next available election ballot.
In August 2021, the City Council discussed an option to offset the potential loss of revenue from the Riverview Land Preserve if it were to close. The council unanimously passed the resolution, but because the vote took place at a study session and not a meeting it was not official.
The county’s deadline to add the ballot language to the Nov. 2, 2021, ballot was by 4 p.m. Aug. 10. Mayor Andrew Swift called a special council meeting for noon Aug. 11, where the council voted again to approve the language, but the Wayne County Clerk did not accept the city’s application for the advisory question.
That move by the council came after the Wayne County Solid Waste Planning Division and Facility Inclusion Committee voted to hold off on approving the expansion of the landfill following a lengthy discussion and consideration of public input.
Gunaga asked who saw the survey language, who approved it and who thought it was not biased before it was sent out.
Swift responded by saying that when council made motion to hire the firm to do the survey, staff was instructed to put it together, and they asked for his input. He also said he thinks he even had final approval on it. He also said a statement was made to just list factually correct information on the survey.
In terms of being biased, Swift said he disagreed with the estimate of the general consensus that the survey was biased.
“Discussions I’ve had and the discussions you see on Facebook, it’s pretty clear if you’re for the expansion it’s just factual information, and if you’re against it, it’s biased,” he said.
Swift said he doesn’t believe the City Council asked to be involved in developing the survey and having final approval. Cobalt was the firm which published the language, which Swift called “the experts,” saying it was their opinion and not biased when just information is listed.
“I don’t think the ballot — the survey — was biased and I do think that we have to do what’s best for the entire city,” Swift said. “I do know we have to do our best to maintain an environmentally safe landfill and I think we do that. I think we go way above what the state requirements and standards are.
“It is in the best interest of the city that we get the expansion. To do anything else is not financially responsible.”
Councilman Chuck Norton requested that if an item this big were to come up in the future again that the city council see it before it is mailed out to residents.
He compared the survey language approval to the council seeing ballot verbiage before people went to the polls and voted.
Swift said that time was a factor in getting information in paper so people are aware the survey was coming.
The city needs answers back before again filing for the landfill expansion in May.
“We’re looking to show Wayne County that even through we have a measurable amount of people in opposition — mostly Trenton residents— that there is support in the community for the expansion.”
During a March 7 meeting, the council unanimously adopted a motion by Councilman Dean Workman in support of the expansion.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])