A group of non-profits—including Coalition For a Liveable Future, 1000 Friends of Oregon, Bicycle Transportation Alliance, The Audubon Society of Portland, The Bus Project—sent the Metro Council a nasty-gram (PDF) on Jan. 17.

The letter bashes Metro for questions the regional government recently included in its December 19 survey Opt In, sent electronically to nearly 10,000 Metro constituents.

Metro developed Opt In last year as a way of soliciting input from Republicans and residents of Washington and Clackamas counties, rather than hearing what's being said in the Multnomah County echo chamber.

Here's the meat of the critics' concerns:

"Metro created the Opt In tool to better understand the Portland metropolitan region’s residents’

views and to inform Metro’s efforts to improve the region’s quality of life. This is a laudable

goal and a potentially valuable tool. However, the Opt In survey of December 19, 2011 on

Regional Infrastructure Projects dramatically fails to live up to that mission. Misleading and

skewed questions perpetuate the false dichotomy that the region must choose either

environmental protection or economic development as its priority for the future, a dichotomy that

Metro and the region’s residents have rejected many times," the letter says.

"Several questions in the survey directly pit a strong economy against a healthy environment.

This is a specious proposition; these two goals have never been in opposition. The survey offers

no option for residents who believe that a high quality environment is essential to a strong

economy.""The questions on regional infrastructure funding priorities and the Columbia River Crossing also

require numerous false choices and read like a push poll," the letter adds. "We urge Metro to disavow this

flawed Opt In survey and affirm its commitment to seeking both a healthy environment and

vibrant economy."

Jim Middaugh
"First of all, I’m solely responsible for the decision to field the survey. The Metro Council didn’t see it or approve it before it was sent out," Middaugh writes."Notwithstanding the fact that many surveys use similar techniques I think CLF makes some good points and I’m grateful to them for sending the letter. Opt In is a new and experimental approach to public involvement and Metro is still learning how best to use it. The fact that we’re having a debate, in my opinion, is an improvement over other methods Metro has used that generated little awareness or dialogue.""I heard from a lot of people, including a number of my family members, friends and Metro colleagues, who agree with CLF that forced choices and forced rankings don’t do justice to the complexity of the challenges facing our region or the intelligence of the people who live here. I’ve definitely learned from that reaction and as a result I think our surveys will be better going forward.

It’s exciting to me that we have nearly 10,000 people (9,628 as of 2:50 p.m.) signed up to participate in Opt In. It’s also exciting that for the first time Metro is publishing demographic information about the people it hears from so anyone who is interested can see the populations we are missing. And, we are clearly missing some, particularly suburban republicans, young people, people with high school educations or less, and minorities. All of us at Metro are working hard to address those gaps.

I believe Opt In represents an honest attempt to improve transparency and accountability at Metro. The jury is still out on whether or not we can make it work over time."