As we all know, urban planners, land-use specialists, zoning code administrators and the like are hired to uphold the law of the land by making influential land-use recommendations. The recommendations made to plan commission staff must be made in a fair, objective manner without bias. However, many planning departments around the nation hire people who are unqualified to become planners. Many planners do not attain employment through their own good merit or credentials but through “cronyism”. For example, there is a municipality in SE Wisconsin (to remain nameless) that hired an intern in 2005 with no experience in urban planning course work and no former GIS experience. This intern was chosen over a candidate who met all the criteria of an intern who had background knowledge and experience in Wisconsin Smart Growth Law and GIS. Another nameless SE Wisconsin planning department currently employs a Senior Planner whose parent/guardian worked in the department previously.
Some people may say “it is not what you know, but who you know”. But that standard doesn’t (or shouldn’t) apply to the citizen or land developer applying for a conditional use permit. So why shouldn’t we scrutinize those who occupy space in planning departments making land-use recommendations? Local governments should be held accountable for hiring decisions of urban planners by issuing mandatory government tests to find the most qualified candidate. Our democratic land use decisions depend on fair hiring of planners.