The issue of staff recommendations and the compilation of findings is becoming a source for much conversation and controversy in my jurisdiction lately. I am interested in learning about your experiences and preferences and if you have any advice in this matter.
I am aware that staff reports vary widely with respect to the rendering of findings of fact and recommendations. Although I have never worked for a jurisdiction that precludes their planning staff from rendering findings or making recommendations in their reports, I am aware of ones that do and believe that we may be headed in that direction. It is my understanding that in these situations, findings are not written until after the decision making body has rendered its decision. Once that occurs, then staff (if staff analyses in the report to the Board are representative of the decision) or the applicant (if staff anlyses are deemed to be in error and the applicant's reasoning prevails) writes that findings and presents them to Board, usually at the next meeting, for ratification. I am accustomed to writing staff analyses, proposing findings, and making recommendations in my reports and seeing the decision makers either agree or disagree with staff's conclusions, and in the instances where they disagree with staff's findings, adopting the applicant's proposed findings (or having the applicant write new or modified ones, as appropriate).
Here is a little more information about my particular situation:
Quasi-judicial map amendments and comprehensive plan amendments require two hearings: Planning Commission and Council (PC makes a recommendation to the Council). It is becoming more and more common to have the Planning Commission's recommendations to the Council not be reflective of staff's judgements about the merits of a proposal. In these situations, the applicant, not staff, renders the findings that are included in the PC's recommendation to the Council. No big problem there, but here's my real dilemma:
If you were staff to a zone change request that, in your analyses to the Planning Commission, did not meet the standards but the PC approved it anyway (and had the applicant render the findings), what would you envision your staff report, or cover memo, to the Council looking like? Would you set your prior analyses aside and forward just the PC decision document to the Council effectively muting any staff interjections? Would you attach your previous (unheeded) staff report as an exhibit to the decision document to the Council and reference it in your cover memo? If asked questions about the proposal at the Council hearing would you respond only on behalf of the Planning Commission? I am struggling with my (non-planner) superiors leaning towards a policy that would effectively shut planning staff out of the dialogue at public hearings on land use matters, particularly during the final hearing of a two-hearing process. Ethically, I question whether I can allow this to happen under the AICP Code. But, in reality, how can I stop it? My superiors are very well educated and experienced; education is not the answer. They support the professionalism of my department but this situation is 100% political and although I (nor they) am (are) ready to dust off my (our) resume(s) things are really getting dicey for me and my subordinate staff and I'm afraid I may be the fall guy here unless I can come up with a workable solution.
So, what words of wisdom might you have to impart??