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Thread: Do Planners Need to be Non-Partisan?

  1. #1
    Member Jeff_Rosenberg's avatar
    Mar 2005
    Minneapolis, Minnesota

    Do Planners Need to be Non-Partisan?

    I had a thought today, while participating in the process for choosing the next City Councilperson for my ward in Minneapolis.

    With planners' connections to the political establishment of the city (i.e. mayor and city council), what does this mean for partisan political activities? Is it:

    1) Wise to be participating openly in campaigning and the like?

    2) Even allowed? Or must city employees remain non-partisan?

  2. #2
    Corn Burning Fool giff57's avatar
    Jul 1998
    On the Mother River
    I have not heard much about this topic in Planning circles. As a City Manager, and a member of the city manager's assoc. our Code of Ethics prohibit any political activity where others would know how you vote. I would say the same would apply to planners, because otherwise your objectivity could be in question.
    “As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with their persons, the State is not far from its fall”
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Budgie's avatar
    Feb 2000
    Sans Souci
    I remain apolitical in my professional dealings and I find that I'm a "fiscal conservative" and a "social liberal". There is no room for politics in planning --- I just wish my City Commission would understand this. My recommendations are never politically motivated and this is why I've had lots of friction with my city commission lately. They just don't understand that thoughtful analysis supported by data and common sense should be paramount in land use decisions.

    When it comes to elections, I have never missed an election that I was eligible to vote in and I do put up yard signs. I don't actively campaign for anyone.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
    Feb 1998
    Greensburg, Kansas
    Nada. As with Giff, no one should know how I vote or lean...it would scare them to death and/or I would be run out town. And no letters to the editor (but I have ghost-written a few in my life).

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
    Aug 2001
    The Cheese State
    It makes sense to remain neutral, even if your code of ethics does not require it. If your candidate won, you'd be seen as a political appointee or toadie. If your candidate loses, you are a target. Sometimes it is hard to sit quietly and not campaign when a good candidate runs against a bad one, but that is what we should do.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Zoning Goddess's avatar
    Sep 1999
    400 miles from Orlando
    Our jurisdiction does not prohibit any campaign activities or political activities as long as they occur outside of work hours.
    However, I stay away from both for the reasons mentioned already by others.

  7. #7
    Jun 2004
    As City Staff we are not allowed to campaign for a candidate. I also do not live in the City that I work for, therefore, I personally do not vote for anyone related to my job. I agree with most here that as a planner woking for a local govt. it is best to remain neutral.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian H's avatar
    Feb 2003
    The ‘Intro’ textbook describes the job of government employees as neutral public servants.

    Planner who work for non-profits or consultants (etc) may be advocate (within ethics guidelines).

    Thus, the textbook answer is yes, public planner should be non-partisan (even though that is impossible ).

  9. #9

    Oct 2001
    Solano County, California
    I'm like Jaxpra (live ten miles away, as do about 1/2 our staff). There was a very "political" County planner a few years back who got quite a bad reputation because of it.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian SGB's avatar
    Nov 2002
    Champlain-Adirondack Biosphere Reserve
    From my experience when public sector planners blur the line between administrative and political activities, things can get rather messy rather quickly.

    Thus, I try (as much as possible) to stay out of the political realm of my municipality. I've even gone as far as choosing to have no political affiliation whatsoever.
    Last edited by SGB; 18 Apr 2005 at 10:33 AM. Reason: deleted repetitious repetitaveness

  11. #11
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
    Jun 2003
    at the neighboring pub
    I'm in the same boat as giff57. The ICMA Code of Ethics is crystal clear on this. Planners by their nature are a part of city management, so I feel that it applies.

    Of course if you would like to have your job on the line every May (municipal election day here), more power to you. I have the added issue that most people in the community have a lot of trust in me and vocalize it (they see me as the only objective person on the staff), so I have problems with Council members trying to get me to lean one way or the other.

    I think some of my political beliefs would make people REAL uncomfortable around here since I live in hardcore "W" country!

    "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)

  12. #12
    Cyburbian el Guapo's avatar
    Oct 2001
    If you, my fellow planner, ask me a question over a beer after work, I'll tell you my political thoughts. If you want to know my politics while we're both at work, I'm going to him and haw and change the subject. There is no possible good that can come from your employer, fellow employees, or clients knowing any of your personal information. It has taken me 10 years to learn this. The less they know the better.
    el Guapo is a former 20 year +/- urban planner (just like you) who thought becoming an attorney was a good life choice.

  13. #13
    Mod Gedunker's avatar
    Aug 2003
    The Wonderland Way
    Our office has historically been a-political and outwardly neutral on red vs blue.

    This creates a problem in participating in our Democracy: Indiana requires announcing which party you intend to vote for in a primary election. If you want to be off the record, you cannot vote in the Primary or else you'll show up on the poll lists as either "R" or "D". Most primaries don't mean squat around here, but I've had to miss a few that did in order to maintian my neutrality.

    This administration has been the most partisan yet. Our Planner I was appointed by the Mayor after having served on his election campaign. The Planner was recently elected to the office of party secretary. We'll see how it all plays out.
    Not valid without corporate seal

  14. #14
    Sep 2004
    Belo Horizonte, Brazil
    Quote Originally posted by Budgie
    I remain apolitical in my professional dealings and I find that I'm a "fiscal conservative" and a "social liberal". There is no room for politics in planning

    planning is politics - separating these into different spheres is like separating economics from politics, which is commonplace among orthodox economists, and just enforces their political commitment to a certain ideological frame which presents itself as "apolitical". there´s no such thing. being a-political is automatically being in favour of whoever is "in power", or of the status quo, or the right way to do things (public policy, that is), according to this apolitical approach to social sciences (a popperian view of science, which tries to ignore anything that won´t contribute to the development of rigorous scientific theory, and label it as useless).
    it´s amazing how being pragmatic can turn one shortsighted

  15. #15
    Cyburbian zman's avatar
    Apr 2004
    Tri-Cities, Washington
    Blog entries
    I wish I worked with El Guapo. My office had some EXTREMELY Republican planners in it during the election, and I couldn't catch a break. One went so far as to send me politically-right leaning emails a couple times a week. Being new to an office atmosphere, I let my sides be shown. It wasn't really bad, and it was only for the Presidential election-- nothing local, but it still was somewhat uncomfortable. Now I have noticed a number of people who have worked here for a while, really remain apolitical at work, and therefore I shall try to do that from here on out.
    You get all squeezed up inside/Like the days were carved in stone/You get all wired up inside/And it's bad to be alone

    You can go out, you can take a ride/And when you get out on your own/You get all smoothed out inside/And it's good to be alone

  16. #16
    May 2005
    My job is to provide professional planning advice to the decision makers. If you stay in one place for a number of years, you will end up working for quite a number of people, with an equal number of political views. Best to stay out of it and not get labeled. I need to be trusted by the people I work for, and taking an open political stance is not the way to do that.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
    Apr 2003
    Somewhere between the mountains and the ocean.
    I have noticed in our office we do not talk much about local political matters although there have been a few times. It is almost as if local maters stay personal, other matters are open season. On a national or even state level, we have quite heated discussions about candidates. Maister and I went a few rounds vea e-mail last fall.
    If you want different results in your life, you need to do different things than you have done in the past. Change is that simple.

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