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Thread: Always doing what the bosses want, regardless if it is bad planning

  1. #1
    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
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    Always doing what the bosses want, regardless if it is bad planning

    I was having a conversation with another planner this weekend and he told me something I had never though of before... He said "employers pay people to do what the employer wants" and that because our bosses are the elected representatives of the community we are paid to do what they want even if we think it is bad planning.

    I said our job is to promote good planning practices that will withstand long-term market changes, etc. He disagreed, saying our job is to follow the wishes of our bosses and that in any other job, such outright disagreement would result in termination.

    What is your option on the topic? Are planners responsible for planning even if it means disagreeing with our bosses or is our job to follow our bosses' orders? Is there any other profession where we so blatantly call our bosses (in terms of planning) uneducated, wrong or even dumb? Not to their faces of course!
    I burned down the church to atone for my transgressions.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    I think we (at least in local gov't planning) are supposed to act as advisors to the elected officials. Our projects are usually undertaken as part of some broader objective outlined in some Council policy or strategic guide, and our reports (both in regards to our projects and in regards to development review, etc.) are meant to provide as good and thorough an explanation of each situation as possible and then suggest a certain course of action. In other words, you argue for good practices, but if at the end of the day what we believe is the best course of action is not the one taken, it is still our duty as public servants in a democratic system to administer the course of action taken by those with democratically-obtained decision-making powers, and continually update our implementation strategies accordingly.

    Does it work out perfectly always? Hell, no. But that's what I strive for, personally and professionally. By accepting a job for a public governmental entity, it is my duty to serve the public through their representative authorities.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    This is one of the primary reasons why I left the public sector for the private sector years ago -- elected officials are sometimes poor planners. You work there and are staff. They are the policy makers. You implement their policy. If you don't like their policies, you can try to educate and change them, but many elected officials will see this as an affront and akin to you talking down to them and you will likely sooner or later lose your job. Ask any planning director whose been around ten years or more.

    If you don't like what the elected officials are doing, buck up and bear it until you can figure a way to move on.

  4. #4
    All of the employed are employees, but not all employees are professionals. That other planner you were talking with isn't a true professional. He's simply an employee. He's been masquerading as a knowledge worker because he can produce the products of our trade, but gives no attention to the meaning of what he's doing and the ideal outcome of a given situation. As employees we are responsible for satisfying our employers but as professionals we are responsible for upholding the greater good of our practice. And our practice is ours alone, not anyone else's.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian ursus's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by smccutchan1 View post
    If you don't like their policies, you can try to educate and change them, but many elected officials will see this as an affront and akin to you talking down to them and you will likely sooner or later lose your job. Ask any planning director whose been around ten years or more.
    True true. Shelf-life around here (Wasatch Front) of a good Planner who knows their stuff and doesn't pull too many punches is only about 5 years. It's the Circle of Life....
    "...I would never try to tick Hink off. He kinda intimidates me. He's quite butch, you know." - Maister

  6. #6
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    excellent question!

    my $.02 on the political side
    • We are here to guide, consult and to implement
    • We are compelled always to forward what we feel is good planning practice in the form of Draft 1 or the Staff Draft
    • Thereafter, we can carefully forward our thoughts but back off (this is the political skill we bring to the job from painful experience) as the town molds draft 1 to their draft
    • Remember, in the end it's their document

    in terms of employer or the professional side -

    yes, I know I am doing the work of the town manager, I forward and act the way he would in the same position - I am doing what he doesn't have time to do hence why he created my position as a department head position

    in turn, I expect people who work for me to be the same way- they are doing what I don't have time to do and should be acting the way I would in a similar situation

    it's not cloning, it's called respect for hierarchy and knowing whose gig it is - in private, you can bring your original thoughts and queries to their attention and affect change in the department or organization, but the party line is the their line, not yours

    that's why you interview your supervisor hard to make sure you can work under that condition under them

  7. #7
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    AICP ethics understands this and has made it sufficiently 'muddy'.

    1 and 2 are sometime contradtictory.
    http://www.planning.org/ethics/ethicscode.htm
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I like the responses provided by TexanOkie and Luckless Pedestrian. We bring our talents to the table in an advisory capacity - much less so in a policy-making role. We influence the developer by sitting with them during the approval process, letting them know what the community might like to see, offering suggestions, and interpreting the rules. Ultimately, though, it is the developer's project and they will bring forward what they choose. We go through a similar process with our staff (maybe) and certainly with our commissioners. We discuss the pros and cons of a proposed project, advise them concerning interpretation of ordinances and statutes, and offer our recommendation. Ultimately, though, the commissioners make their decision. So long as it is still consistent with law, it is our role to abide by it. Whether or not it follows today's theory of "good planning practice" is not relevant.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    I think the question of "doing what our bosses, e.g. the elected officials want" vs. doing "good planning" (the defenition of which is open to question) is a perennial question we all face.

    I've had similar discussions with planners who tell me our job is to carry out the community's "values" whether its good planning or not. I think this, while basically true, can become a simplistic view that allows us to skim to surface, find a least-common-denominator value or listen to the usual suspects, and implement a lackluster plan. Rather, I think we call on our planning skills and analysis of data and trends to help the decision-makers understand the outcomes (intended and otherwise), possibly of several scenarios, so they can make an informed decision. How to present these to the stakeholders so they get it and make informed decisions is part of the art of planning. I find if we follow this, more often than not we get to elements of good planning in the end (after all, if it didn't solve problems, it wouldn't be good planning!) Unfortunately, I see much more opporunity to do this type of planning in the consutling world than in the public sector.


    So, when people tell us they want uniformly low density growth, great public transit, fiscal solvency, free flowing traffic AND a bakery they can walk to, I think it is the planners' job to help them reflect on their values vis-a-vis reality and help get to a good solution.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    I just re-read my post and realize it sounds overly optimistic, even naive. OK what I meant is even in the face of politics that does not support good planning, the right process can get us to SOME elements of good planning. I think getting permission to implement such as process can be hard in and of itself if one is in a community that does not support 'good' planning. What I mean to say is, I wish we wouldn't hide behind "it's the community's values" as often as we do, without challenging some of their assumptions.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian TerraSapient's avatar
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    This is a great thread.

    I think it depends entirely on the boss. Some bosses acknowledge your skills and contributions and give you plenty of space to do the job they hired you for. Others expect you to implement their philosophy to the letter.

    Like others have already stated, as a profession, I see planners as advisory. Offering knowledge, experience, and guidance. Ultimately, however, the final call will rarely be in our hands.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    We are advisors, pure and simple. We are paid to give our best professional opinion. If the politicians voice some concerns, we are paid to give our best rersponse. In the end, though, it is the politicians' decision, not ours. In my career I've put forward many "good planning" ideas that have gone nowhere. I accept that. The voters elected the council to make the final decision, not me. Even though my good planning idea is good planning, it might not be good politics, or good budgeting, or good short term economics, or good something else in the minds of the elected decision-makers. I move on. You've heard my mantra before: show up, do your best, detach from the result.


    OK, I mostly move on. I admit to taking some enjoyment when my advise is disregarded and a year to two later the decision comes home to roost. Told you so.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    Otis' comment reminded me that even as a urban design consultant with sometimes more development experience than my developer clients, they choose to ignore my advice also. Its not that different which side of the field you are on. When you are paid to advise and consult as we are, those we advise and consult are going to sometimes choose to ignore our professional recommendations. Also as Otis' said, more times than not, when they choose to ignore my recommendations, it is proved out that my recommendations were sound and correct. This has just recently happened to me and the client ended up losing big time at the City Council.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally posted by smccutchan1 View post
    Otis' comment reminded me that even as a urban design consultant with sometimes more development experience than my developer clients, they choose to ignore my advice also. Its not that different which side of the field you are on. When you are paid to advise and consult as we are, those we advise and consult are going to sometimes choose to ignore our professional recommendations. Also as Otis' said, more times than not, when they choose to ignore my recommendations, it is proved out that my recommendations were sound and correct. This has just recently happened to me and the client ended up losing big time at the City Council.
    And that's why I think its important that we at least uphold those good professional recommendations. It's when they want you to change your recommendations that crosses the line. I know I'm not a decision-maker, but I'm not going to change my recommendations just to make the decision makers more comfortable in the course of action they've already laid out. If I did that I'd just be a part of their political agenda.

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