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Thread: Clueless planning commissioners

  1. #1

    Clueless planning commissioners

    I am increasingly becoming more and more frustrated with my town's planning commissioners. It's evident that most do not read their staff reports, have no idea what planning is about, and are often rude to both staff, petitioners, and other speakers at public hearings. They often ignore the criteria by which they most approve or deny a petition and provide no reasons for approval or denial. They often demand conditions that seem illogical (not to mention potentially illegal). They grandstand and some clearly are seeking political office. Others are busy bodies. And others just seem to want a free lunch and something to do once a month. I have endured moments where I've been challenged over a matter where a commissioner insists that he or she knows what he or she is talking about. Usually they don't. Out of respect I sit there and endure the public tongue lashing about why I didn't do something or why I did it they way that I did. I swear, one member thinks its a public duty to insult staff. Is there a way to handle a bad board? Any suggestions on how to guide them to be more interested and professional as well as more respectful to staff? My board is completely embarrassing and making some very bad decisions. It's quite aggravating. Help!

  2. #2

    Clueless Planning Commissioners

    I understand your frustrations. I used to work in a small town with some of the same characteristics. The Plan Commission outright refused to take responsibility for some things they were required to do under state law (provide adequate public notice), and seemed to think that they and applicants weren't constrained by the requirements of the zoning ordinance (unless of course it was something they didn't like). In some ways, they were right. They knew town much better than I did, and trusted people to "do the right things", which most often was the case. My warnings of the big, bad out-of-town developer with twenty lawyers ready for a fight didn't scare them back onto the straight and narrow.

    I would do three things in your situation. First, I would stress the importance of the Plan Commission to your commissionmembers and legislators. Second, I would clearly, but tactfully, let the commissioners know when you think they are crossing the line into the gray area of their powers or things outright beyond their responsibilities, but also let them know they you don't want to substitute your judgement for theirs. Third, I would let the staff know that you don't share the commissionmembers opinions of them and will defend them before the commission and coucil as appropriate.

    Good luck.

  3. #3

    Clueless Planning Commissioners

    I've dealt with some planning commissions of that sort before. Makes you want to get up and walk away, doesn't it? While planners are not responsible for others' rudeness like you have experienced, the staffers generally (the planning profession) share some of the blame for not keeping commissioners educated (not you individually). Few local programs have a formal training effort. Over the past several years the American Planning Association has been moving to correct that some (videos, special courses and conference sessions for planning commissioners, etc.).

    It is also difficult to train commissioners because by the time you get them trained, they get of the commission or are not reappointed. And you did not mention the frequent self interests that can be served by selected individual members.

    You've hit on one of the hardest parts of the job of a planning commission staffer--how to keep your composure, take abuse, and still try to get along and do what's best for the community
    Jerry Weitz

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