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Thread: When a planner leaves

  1. #1
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    When a planner leaves

    I am not sure if this is the right forum for this question, but here goes...

    I would appreciate any thoughts on the following:

    When a municipal planner, the only planner on staff, retires or leaves his or her position:
    1. Should he/she expect to be hired as a consultant to train the new planner, or
    2 Should he/she be expected to leave everything well documented so that someone else can pick up where the retiring/leaving planner left off, or
    3. is it the responsibility of the municipality to have the old and new planners overlap?

    Or, is there another solution I missed? Just to be clear, the retiring/leaving planner is NOT me, and I do not work with him/her. This is really just a hypothetical question.

    Thanks!

  2. #2
    Cyburbian SGB's avatar
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    It's a bit presumptuous to expect to be hired as a consultant, so I have to go with 2 & 3.

    The outgoing planner may want to suggest an overlap with his/her replacement in order to steer the municipality toward a smooth transition.

    Ultimately, however, all staff transitions are the responsibility of the muni.
    All these years the people said he’s actin’ like a kid.
    He did not know he could not fly, so he did.
    - - Guy Clark, "The Cape"

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally posted by SGB
    It's a bit presumptuous to expect to be hired as a consultant, so I have to go with 2 & 3.

    The outgoing planner may want to suggest an overlap with his/her replacement in order to steer the municipality toward a smooth transition.

    Ultimately, however, all staff transitions are the responsibility of the muni.
    Would you go even further and say it may be a conflict of interest to be hired as a consultant immediately after tendering a resignation or retiring? It would be a conflict to work for an applicant as a consultant for a period of time after retiring/leaving but what about working for the municipality?

    If the municipality chooses not to overlap, I suppose the departing planner is under no obligation to leave things in order for the next planner, but as a resposible and courteous professional should do so.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian SGB's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Main Street Maven
    Would you go even further and say it may be a conflict of interest to be hired as a consultant immediately after tendering a resignation or retiring? It would be a conflict to work for an applicant as a consultant for a period of time after retiring/leaving but what about working for the municipality?.
    Here we get into the perception vs. reality area. I think that there wouldn't be a conflict as long as the consultant work for the municipality was for a short and fixed time period.

    As for working on behalf of clients with applications before the Town - that may be another matter.

    [ducking for cover]
    Have you checked to see if the AICP code of ethics addresses this at all?
    [/ducking for cover]
    All these years the people said he’s actin’ like a kid.
    He did not know he could not fly, so he did.
    - - Guy Clark, "The Cape"

  5. #5
    Cyburbian ludes98's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Main Street Maven
    This is really just a hypothetical question.
    Riiiiiight.

    My take: A good planner always has well documented files so there is no need to ask questions because it is in the file. As for responsibility, I don't feel outgoing staff have any debt or requirements unless they were agreed to as terms of employment. Just my .02.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally posted by ludes98
    Riiiiiight.
    Okay, okay - I am the INCOMING planner. The person I replaced retired after years and years and is trying to sabatoge me (really and truly - I am not paranoid - others have noticed it as well) for his own twisted reasons. He left no instructions and is generally making my life hell. To make it worse, he actually serves on the planning board - as he did while he was the staff planner (I feel this truly was a conflict of interest, for what its worth)

    However, I will not be here much longer - no one should have to put up with this kind of rancor, so its kind of a moot point.

  7. #7
    1. I don't think that it would be unethical to be hired back as a consultant as long as you aren't taking a job that does business with the municipality that you are leaving and as long as your new employer is ok with it and the hours will not conflict with your new job. When I left my second planning job they hired me back as a consultant about a month later to work a couple of mornings each week to get things in order. The new employer (the consultant firm) loved it because i was a new employee already bringing in like 12-15 billable hours each week.

    2. You are not under any legal obligation to leave things in order, but you definitly should in case you want to use them as a future reference. I would make a list of all your projects, their status and any other relevant information.
    "I'm a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are."

    - Homer Simpson

  8. #8
    Cyburbian ludes98's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Main Street Maven
    Okay, okay - I am the INCOMING planner. The person I replaced retired after years and years and is trying to sabatoge me (really and truly - I am not paranoid - others have noticed it as well) for his own twisted reasons. He left no instructions and is generally making my life hell. To make it worse, he actually serves on the planning board - as he did while he was the staff planner (I feel this truly was a conflict of interest, for what its worth)

    However, I will not be here much longer - no one should have to put up with this kind of rancor, so its kind of a moot point.
    Wow! That would not be fun to say the least. Good luck and best wishes in your search/switch!

  9. #9
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Main Street Maven
    Okay, okay - I am the INCOMING planner. The person I replaced retired after years and years and is trying to sabatoge me (really and truly - I am not paranoid - others have noticed it as well) for his own twisted reasons. He left no instructions and is generally making my life hell. To make it worse, he actually serves on the planning board - as he did while he was the staff planner (I feel this truly was a conflict of interest, for what its worth)

    However, I will not be here much longer - no one should have to put up with this kind of rancor, so its kind of a moot point.
    Review staff serving on a voting body... ... Seems like most places wouldn't allow that... I'd check any ethics ordinances that your city might have and talk to your City Manager about the situation. City Managers are in more of a position to talk to elected officials about removing someone from a Commission for reasons usually spelled out in an ordinance or charter.

    He is an extremely unprofessional planner if he is sabotaging you and not leaving his old house in order. There is no obligation to do so, but it's just good business.

    I don't blame you for wanting to get out of there. Good luck!

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Zoning Goddess's avatar
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    #2.

    Our jurisdiction won't allow any overlap; the incumbent planner has to be gone before they will even advertise to fill the position. Well-documented case files will at least give a new planner the history of a project/property.

    I was one of about 10 planners. After being gone almost 2 years, I am still receiving phone calls re cases of mine. I have tried to be polite, but now, it's time for the new people to figure it out for themselves! But I think sisterceleste is going to stop the perpetrators of that!

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    The AICP code of ethics allows one to conslut FOR the employer, but you must wait one year before representing an applicant TO to employer.

    Maven - Sorry to hear you're in a bad spot. Especially being the ONLY staff planner, I can imagine that the other staff does not understand and offer the appropriate transition and support network, much less training in "how we do things around here".

    As far as your questions go:

    1) it is not 'expected' to be retained as a consultant, but if the opportunity exists for both employer and outgoing employee to make it civil and both benefit, kudos to them.

    2) depends on the parting circumstances. In one job I walked in, dropped off my keys, and left. In my last job, it was an amicable parting and I gave 4 weeks notice, had weekly transition meetings with the elected officials and remaining staff, etc. I felt good when I walked out the door. I understand Cardinal recently left alot of documentation for his successor, and he will be VERY FAR away, leaving little chance of a more personal transition.

    3) I dont think there is any responsibility for any kind of overlap. If it happens, its all the better. If not, well, its a tough situation for all involved.

    That said, can you look on the bright side here -- take a stand and say "just because YOU did it that way, doesnt limit my options - I am doing it MY way". And to the extent there is no written policy or procedure, you should have that freedom. Tell the employer you dont need the transition "help" and chart your course!

    Best of luck to you Maven, whatever you decide.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    #2 only. When I left jobs, there were months before a replacement was hired. Once I replaced a person who stayed on board in a different function. She occasionally wanted to gossip about the staff, but I never let her. Overlaps would suck all the power from you and keep it with the predesessor. You would never be your own person.

  13. #13
    Member Wulf9's avatar
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    The best defense against sabotage is to be excrutiatingly consistent.

    Let your ordinance and policies guide your actions. Let the public and the planning board know exactly why you make a recommendtion based on law and policy.

    The Planning Board is allowed to grant permits and some exceptions. That's their job. It's not staff's job to grant exceptions unless given direction by the Board (e.g. the Board authorizes staff design review for signs under 30 square feet.)

    Now, the trick is training the planning board.

    If they challenge you as staff, let them know you are following ordinances and policies. They are the ones that get to grant exceptions, not staff.

    Let them know you listen to their decisions and represent their directions to applicants over the counter. So they need to give you directions that you can use in a consistent way.

    When they make a good decision, note that decision when you make a report on a similar application. If they want to make a different decision the next time, ask them which direction they would want you to give to applicants over the counter - the original or the new direction.

    If they want to do something illegal, tell them they should continue the item and you will bring back an ordinance amendment so they can approve the project legally.

    Listen to the Board and keep reinforcing their good decisions.

    If they want to make a bad decision after you have made sure your reports and input is consistent with law and policy, that's their job. Don't hold a grudge or fight a rear guard action. (But always be ready to jump in with a right answer if they find they don't like their bad decision at some time in the future.)

    Be exceedingly kind, even if others are unkind.

  14. #14

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    In general, I think a wise employer creates transitions where the old and new staff overlap for a few days. It is true that the files should be useful to anyone, but what you really need to talk about is political history and nuances that aren't in the files. I had a two week overlap here and that was great. The former planner (who retired rather than leaving for elsewhere) is on retainer to complete a couple of projects he started, so the transition continues, and that is helpful. I personally don't think the one-year prohibition on working for the "other side" is long enough, but for someone to continue projects for the local government poses no conflict with me or with the code.

    A staff planner should never serve on an appointed board, but it isn't illegal in a few states.

    As for the sabotage: I agree with Wulf9 that kindness is a virtue, but kindness stems from compassion and as the Buddha noted, compassion is a two-edged sword. If kindness is one edge, confrontation when necessary is the other. We can't be compassionate towards others if we don't confront them when that is in everyone's interest. After all,the only other truly basic virtue is honesty. We have to do it with courtesy, with the facts in hand, and with positive energy, but sometimes we have to do it. If you can document sabotage, I say you pick your time and make it public.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    I have been in your situation before. My first planning job, I was one of three planners. The “acting” senior planner was a good man, but he was fed a lot of bad ideas about planning by the former senior planner, who right after retirement, became the chair of the planning commission, and still shows up to the office, and thinks that he is the senior planner still. He does not get paid by the city, but he is the first to tell us that we are doing something wrong, (such as using computers or GIS for anything), or thinking about adaptive reuse, mixed use in the CPD, or many other programs.

    In your case where he is hired by the city, I would be a little stressed. In my case I was able to tell him what I thought of him, then moved.
    "A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. Time makes more converts than reason." - Thomas Paine Common Sense.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian Man With a Plan's avatar
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    Old Planners Never Leave - They Just Fade Away

  17. #17
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    Thank you all for your advice and words of wisdom. I was at the end of my rope when I started this thread, and the input of the collective brain was a great help. I am still planning to quit, but will stand my ground in the meantime. There is all kinds of politics at work here, and lines have been drawn (none of this is personal towards me, it has to do with the extremely strong personality of the old planner and of course good old politics).

    Anyway, thanks for the support. I promise not to vent again on this board. :-P

  18. #18
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Main Street Maven
    Anyway, thanks for the support. I promise not to vent again on this board. :-P
    Worry don't about the ranting. Cyburbia is a good place for it. Plus, your rant was channelled into a good question that helps everyone learn, which is a good thing.

    Good luck!
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Chet
    ...I understand Cardinal recently left alot of documentation for his successor, and he will be VERY FAR away, leaving little chance of a more personal transition....
    Right-O. I gave the other staff more advance notice than the elected folks, who were told about three weeks before I left. I have many detailed files, but spent a good deal of my last week writing about thirty pages of "memoirs" detailing some of the otherwise undocumented histories, discussing the rationale for why we were doing things the way we were, and the current status and next steps associated with many projects. I even left a little history of some of the consultants working in the region (hire Chet, etc. ). I am also consulting for the organization on a couple of the projects I had been working on, so that in the 2-3 month period it will take to hire and start a new director, some of these projects can make some headway.

    Whether or not the Plan Commission has the authority to hire the person, a planner working for a community should never serve on the community's Plan Commission, or any board which may have dealings with planning. I think most state chapters would consider this an ethics breach. Let's add a couple more. He should not be consulting for the city if he serves on the board that will review his consulting project. Again, unethical. He should not be interfering with your efforts to perform the job he left. Unethical and unprofessional. Is he still a member of APA or AICP? Report him. Report it even if he is not. Have the chapter president send a letter to the city council stating its opinion that this person's practices are inconsistent with the code of ethics and perhaps even state regulations.
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  20. #20
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    Thank you for asking this question. I too am struggling through a weird transition in a new job. I'll finally clear a file that has been sitting here since February, that should have been delt with much sooner.

    When I leave, and hopefully it is sooner than later, i plan on leaving everything as completed as possible (including items I know will need to be done 2 months after I leave) and a flow chart of where things are in the queue. The reason i will be doing this is personal and professional pride, knowing that I "packed my trash out" is important to me.

    As for the ethics of cvnsulting, I think a bit of overlap is preferable so the person knows what is going on and office protocols. Speaking from expereince, being handed a procedures manual, 13 By-laws and a stack of files at various stages of completion is not fun, nor productive use of a person's time. I think it is important for senior staff / managment to provide mentorship and coaching during a time of transition and if they can't then hire the person who ca.

    Now to add to this question, is it appropriate to ask a future employer what the transition plan is if they hire you?
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  21. #21
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by donk
    Now to add to this question, is it appropriate to ask a future employer what the transition plan is if they hire you?

    Absolutely!

  22. #22

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    Definitely. While you can't put it in the bank, I think a well-planned transition is a benefit.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian solarstar's avatar
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    Y'all are making me feel like we're a bit unorganized. (what's a transition plan?!?) When someone leaves here, a new person isn't hired until after they leave. In the meantime, other staff have to pick up the slack. (I've never worked in a one-planner type of job). I've had other planners act threatened and defensive around me, but never had anyone actually sabotage things. Sounds like you should look discreetly for another job, and see if things change soon. (Isn't Cyburbia for venting, too?!?) o

  24. #24
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Main Street Maven
    When a municipal planner, the only planner on staff, retires or leaves his or her position:
    1. Should he/she expect to be hired as a consultant to train the new planner, or
    2 Should he/she be expected to leave everything well documented so that someone else can pick up where the retiring/leaving planner left off, or
    3. is it the responsibility of the municipality to have the old and new planners overlap?

    Or, is there another solution I missed?
    In an ideal world (which your situation seems awfully far from, sabotage and all), planners would follow what's known in computer programming as "the hit-by-a-bus test". As in, if I were hit by a bus tomorrow, could somebody else come in and know what the status of all of my projects was and be able (after some studying of my notes) to continue them? Or would they have to redo a lot of the background work that I've done and throw out (or just plain not know about) pieces of work that I've done, because they aren't able to figure out what I was thinking? This approach calls for constant documentation, and the better planning directors (and software project managers) I've worked for have expected it--it's also helpful for those times when you're forced to set aside a project for a while and then try to figure out, a few months later, exactly what you were doing.

    This assumes, of course, that the programmer or planner wants his projects and his employer to be able to continue after his/her departure, and is the opposite of the vindictiveness you're encountering. It also violates the ethic that, if nobody can understand your intermediate work, they can't fire you before you finish, or they lose everything they've already paid you for. But that's a pretty poor ethic.

    In your current situation, I think Wulf9's advice is stellar, but you might also practice the hit-by-a-bus edict on your own initiative, just to emphasize the contrast between your methods and your predecessor's.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian tsc's avatar
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    I would go with 2 or 3.... If you are the only planner (staff of one), I can imagine it could be difficult. I only imagine that the planner left of his own accord.
    "Yeehaw!" is not a foreign policy

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