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Thread: Lobbying planning commissioners

  1. #1
    Cyburbian TOFB's avatar
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    Lobbying planning commissioners

    My week started off with one of our "regular' customers reaming me because the email addresses of our Planning Commssion was not on our website. We have provided her that information, but the more I think about this, the more a case of ex-parte contact it seems to be.

    The role of the Planning Commissioner is to conduct public hearings, and openly discuss the facts relevant to the case in open session.

    I am going to advise the Citizen that she should avoid privately lobbying the Commission and direct any correspondence to me so it can be openly disseminated.

    Agree on this approach?

  2. #2
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Yeah, that's tricky. I would be careful about advising the 'customer' to not lobby the Commissioners. You should run that through your muni's attorney.

    But I think that you should advise the Commissioners not to allow themselves to be lobbied. I think it alright for a commissioner to talk to an applicant (and visa-versa), but the commissioners should definitely not be discussing together outside of a scheduled and advertised public meeting/hearing.

    I wouldn't worry about the applicant. I'd be more concerned about advising you Commissioners that this person has them on radar, and will be contacting them.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Plus Whose Yur Planner's avatar
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    You have to be careful about ex-parte communication, especially lobbying. Plan Commission hearings are quasi-judical, not legislative. That means evidence that influences a decision is taken in. The other party has the right to respond to that evidence. Like you, I have people provide me the information and I distribute it to the members.
    When did I go from Luke Skywalker to Obi-Wan Kenobi?

  4. #4
         
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    We only supply the names of our Planning Commission members to the public. We don't supply the addresses, phone numbers or e-mail address. It is a public board but they are volunteers that donate their time to the community and have families and jobs. For the most part they don't want to be contacted outside of a public forum. If someone wants to look them up in the phone book they can. If someone would like to write a letter we will make sure the entire commission gets a copy. We discourage any contact outside of the public hearing process on specific quasi-judicial items and coach the board members disclose any contact prior to a hearing.

  5. #5
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    argh!

    I give my Board members the speech about email constantly - it's a public document, even if it's in their home - I tell them: don't use it to talk to abutters, applicants - they ignore it often and it drives me crazy!

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    Everyone's got a role to play in the project approval process.

    The applicant's role is to get their project approved. So if the applicant wants to contact Plan Commissioners, it may well be in the applicant's personal best interest to do so. And if a member of the public doesn't feel that their role is fulfilled within the bounds of the public hearing process it may be in their personal best interest to contact Plan Commissioners as well.

    However, from my perspective (as a consultant who works for munis) I think it is strongly preferable that these things do not occur. IMHO, all discussion that will inform the Commisioners' decision should take place in the public forum, at the Plan Commission meeting. The issue for me is equitable access to relavent information.

    If Plan Commissioners have private discussions regarding an item that will come before them for a decision, they are likely to form their opinion of the project based on information that is not shared with -- and possibly not available to -- the general public and/or other Plan Commissioners. This is the case whether or not the Plan Commissioners are talking amongst themselves outside the meeting, and whether or not the outside communication is with the applicants, members of the general public, or anyone else.

    Have I ever told applicants that they may want to discuss their project with people who will be in a position to make a decision on the matter -- yep, sure have. If I didn't admit that there'd be other planners in this forum who could point it out. There are compromises that we make in this line of work, and that's been one of mine -- though I must say that's not my general position. I do support mendlemen's suggestion that we advise PC members not to entertain these discussions and TOFB's conclusion that forwarding materials to staff for distribution to Plan Commissioners is a sound approach.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian mallen's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Whose Yur Planner
    You have to be careful about ex-parte communication, especially lobbying. Plan Commission hearings are quasi-judical, not legislative. That means evidence that influences a decision is taken in. The other party has the right to respond to that evidence. Like you, I have people provide me the information and I distribute it to the members.
    In my community Planning Commission decisions are legislative and the Zoning Board of Appeals decisions are quasi-judicial. We strongly advise (almost prohibit) the ZBA members from engaging in ex-parte communication. We advise the Planning Commissioners against it, but do not prohibit it.

    I guess it depends on the type of decisions your particular board makes. Our ZBA reviews quasi-judicial issues (variances, appeals of administrative decisions, and such). Our Planning Commission reviews legislative issues (zoning text amendments, rezonings/map amendments, and such).

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    Mallen pointed out where I was headed. It depends upon the type of decision making body you have.

    Everywhere I have worked--south and mid atlantic--all rezoning and special exception decisions are legislative. Thus, communication between applicant (or citizen group) and the planning borad or elected officials is acceptable and perfectly legal.

    The BZA of course is quasi judicial so No ex-parte communication is permitted. Nor should it be.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Plus Whose Yur Planner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mallen
    In my community Planning Commission decisions are legislative and the Zoning Board of Appeals decisions are quasi-judicial. We strongly advise (almost prohibit) the ZBA members from engaging in ex-parte communication. We advise the Planning Commissioners against it, but do not prohibit it.

    I guess it depends on the type of decisions your particular board makes. Our ZBA reviews quasi-judicial issues (variances, appeals of administrative decisions, and such). Our Planning Commission reviews legislative issues (zoning text amendments, rezonings/map amendments, and such).
    Point taken, it does depend on the type of decision. Text amendments and zoning map updates are more legislative in nature. However, with rezonings for a specific property, subdivision approvals and PUD's, evidence is taken in. Further, BZA decisions are completely quasi-judicial. Bottom line, if evidence that influences a decision is taken in, any parties in opposition have the right to respond. The example I use is a judge. How would you feel if you on trial and someone talked to the judge about your case and you didn't have a chance to respond.
    When did I go from Luke Skywalker to Obi-Wan Kenobi?

  10. #10
    Cyburbian TOFB's avatar
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    Here the Planning Commission is legislative and ZBA quasi-judicial; I still think lobbying the PC is not a good idea outside of the hearing. Undoubtedly legal, though...

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