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Thread: Rigors of private planning practice #10: integrity and "good" client relations

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Rigors of private planning practice #10: integrity and "good" client relations

    Here is an example of editing oneself while writing a plan with the best of intentions, but the internal DO NOT PISS OFF THE CLIENT Editor turns on and gives a different result:


    Initial Happy Planner Thoughts:
    • Based on the projected population stabilization shown in Figure 29 and the anticipated long-term job losses, the Township should not encourage new residential development, especially new renter-occupied housing during the next five years.
    Resulting DO NOT PISS OFF THE CLIENT Editor Text:
    • Based on the projected population stabilization shown in Figure 29 and the anticipated long-term job losses, during the short-term, new residential development should be limited.
    The editor wants to soften the language and be less direct. Perhaps this is a question of word choice and writing style, but I tend to prefer the former approach since it is more clear and to the point. On the other hand, the editor wants to sound nice and approachable to the client, hoping for possible future projects.

    Is this an issue of integrity or is it about writing style? In answering, assume you don't know the client so well - you scored the project because you were the low bidder.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    To be frank, I don't see much difference. I wonder if you might use an entirely different approach altogether. What you may really be trying to say is that new residential development should be limited until the employment picture improves.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Wanigas?
    Is this an issue of integrity or is it about writing style? In answering, assume you don't know the client so well - you scored the project because you were the low bidder.
    I think it can be an integrity issues but doesn't have to be. I think if you fundamentally change the "advice" or the main content or main point, then the attempts to Make Nice can negatively impact ethics. But I also think there are legitimate edits to Make Nice or soften the blow or what have you that are more ethical, sometimes, than being so blunt. It depends a lot on circumstances. And some folks prefer more blunt, direct language because they like clarity and honesty and feel that less direct language is time-wasting BS.

    If it were a new client that I did not know, I would Be Myself in hopes that what I am is exactly what they are looking for. If they like it, future interactions with them will be more relaxed because I won't have to try to put on some "mask" and be somebody else.

    On the other hand, I am always "myself". People who don't like what that is eventually figure it out and tell me where to get off. People who do like what that is generally have a lot of respect for my integrity and consistency and feel comfortable with knowing where I stand.


    But I am not exactly making money yet. So it is entirely possible that my approach is one that will guarantee that all your clients disappear and you end up bankrupt.

  4. #4

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    Seems to me that the editor is doing you a big favor by removing a bias against a particular group of people, and a bias that might adversely affect your client in, say, a Fair Housing Act action. If rentals don't pay for themselves, I would be surprised if owner-occupied units (which in most states pay less in taxes) do, too. But it may be true in a particular place. Still, the solution is not to limit housing opportunity for a particular class of citizens, but to figure out how to make that type of housing a break-even deal by using the tax structure, fees, etc.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian SW MI Planner's avatar
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    Here's how I feel - assuming the municipality is already a client and not just going out for bid. I am paying you to tell me your conclusions that are based on the research and analysis that you have performed. I like direct and to the point, such as the first sentence. The second sentence can be left open to different interpretations ("well, it doesn't say *limit* rental units, just don't encourage....so we can approve this request").

    And, if the market is not supporting additional rental units, in my opinion, the study should say so. I don't feel that limiting or encouraging rental units shows a bias to a certain class of people ((unless you are arbitrarily trying to eliminate much needed subsidized housing or something)). But I think that is why you need to be specific and address the different aspects - rental, owner occupied, low-mod, senior housing, etc. etc. Your figures will (or should) support your recommendations.

    I don't think the wording should affect a client from retaining your services again in the future, except for I would be upset if I got something I really could never use. But, that would be my fault for accepting it in the first place.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    So far, it's a mixed response. Very interesting thoughts...

    I was recently faced with a choice to use not encourage versus limit in a recent document. I thought the former was more to the point and a natural flow for the context of the document. To be honest, I didn't have an internal editor to suggest the latter - it was my boss who reviewed my draft and suggested that I "soften" the language. I sort of chuckled when that was suggested because the client had already read the draft and the comments and edits I received were nowhere near that area in the document. My boss had an issue with that exact word choice noted above, and the suggestion was certainly borne from the fact that we wanted to schmooze the client. I told my boss that the client had no issue with the not encourage language, and then, it became okay to use the more direct word choice.

    For me, this experience was revealing. Something so apparently innocuous as word choice was an issue for a profit-driven company, but for the individual who would ultimately implement the document, there was no flinching at all.

    Given what you know now, and pretending my client had never read my draft, would it have been unethical if I made the suggested wording change?

  7. #7
    Cyburbian munibulldog's avatar
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    Is this an issue of integrity or is it about writing style? In answering, assume you don't know the client so well - you scored the project because you were the low bidder.
    It is writing style IMHO, you need to use marketing speak:

    Soft employment levels will likely lead to reduced demand for housing as shown in Figure 29. There appears to be only limited need for additional development land for housing, in particular it is expected that there will be low demand for multi-family housing. The Township should consider limiting the area of land in districts zoned for multiple family housing.

    Avoid talking about rental housing in zoning documents. If this is for a housing authority or a rental ordinance then it is ok. But for zoning, a residential use is a residential use, no differentiation between rental and owner occupied. Note that multifamily is frequently rental (except for owner occupied condos).

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    I agree most with Lee's comments about the market segmentation being an issue with the former. But hey, lets face it, most developers of rental units know more about the market than this municipality's board. You don't need to overstate the obvious. Go with the later.

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