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Thread: How qualified is your local planner?

  1. #1
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    How qualified is your local planner?

    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.

  2. #2
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Around these parts, where Chicago-style patronage is still the norm in municipal hiring and planning agencies are either woefully undersized or non-existent, planners who move into a position from engineering, law, or a political aide position are very common. One nearby municipality hired someone with no planning experience for a very high-level planning position. Local pundits defended the hiring, saying it's far more important to be able to navigate the complex political structure, and that they'll grow into the position over time.

    I wonder if the broad range of degrees listed as qualifications for some planning jobs (law, engineering, political science, public policy, etc) is used to help otherwise unqualified but politically connected candidates land the position..
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  3. #3
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    The "most qualified" is often not the one with the highest test score. One community that I know very well had hired some very qualified people...and their average tenure was 18 months. IMO they did not pick their battles well, and could not take decisions that were contrary to sound planning principles.

    A good human resources effort will create a profile of what the community wants in its planners. The most qualified (for that community) is the one that best fits the profile. I had one interviewer tell me I was on his short list because I survived three elections in one position.

    Does who you know come in to play? Sadly, very often as per Dan's post. I dislike the idea of mandatory government testing just as much as cronyism.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by queenOdawg View post
    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.
    This is the human condition. Welcome! IMHO this will never change, despite the few %age of folks who want to change it.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    Often the job title and actual pay are not in sync. Senior planner title at junior planner pay. A lot of smaller jurisdictions can only afford what in industry standards is an entry level planner but is basically running a single professional planning office.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    Around here (southern new england) most planners are qualified for their positions. I can't speak for whether towns hire planners they know and like over more qualified applicants, but I'm not seeing towns hiring blatantly unqualified planners.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
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    A rural town doing 10 building permits and one subdivision a year is totally different from a city doing all sort of long-range economic planning. Around here many towns have one planner and the person either stays there forever or leaves after 18 months for greener pastures. If the jurisdiction can only pay $35k how much experience do you think people are going to have that are honest candidates?

    They don't teach political ability, many social norms, and basic techniques in grad school so yes, get a good person and let them grow into it. I'd rather have a smart person with a BA than top-of-the-class with MS from Berkeley with no individual drive.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian ursus's avatar
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    Good points. Plus, there is a qualification test - AICP. And I don't think I'd be alone if I said I've met some real lack-luster bone-heads with the magic letters behind their names.
    "...I would never try to tick Hink off. He kinda intimidates me. He's quite butch, you know." - Maister

  9. #9
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Yup.....

    I've seen it a couple of times.....

    This one time at band cam......er....ah.....a west slope town in Colorado, they hired the sitting mayor for planning director over several qualified candidates, then refused to release applicant resumes to the press siting confidentiality.

    This other time (again in Colorado) a community promoted the secretary from the planning department, who was also married to the assessor, into the planning directors job

    I've seen one other example so far here in Arizona, similar to the last situation.

    If you hire a economic developer as director, look for economic development to be the focus of the department. If you hire a MBA, look for everything to be approved ASAP. If you work for a English major, look for massive red line comments on your next staff report. If you work for a history buff, the cases will be researched to death....and on and on and on.....
    Skilled Adoxographer

  10. #10
    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    I'm seeing the other side. We had some highly qualified people who left or were laid off because they rubbed the wrong (not very qualified) person the wrong way. No we seem to be getting fewer and fewer qualified people around.
    I don't pretend to understand Brannigan's Law. I merely enforce it.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by dvdneal View post
    I'm seeing the other side. We had some highly qualified people who left or were laid off because they rubbed the wrong (not very qualified) person the wrong way. No we seem to be getting fewer and fewer qualified people around.
    This illustrates one of the deep issues in the planning profession - so easy to undo good work by politicians or incompetents. One of my old places they finally ended the charade of having a planner get in the way of the establishment direction.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian jswanek's avatar
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    .

    I'm the greatest zoning code proof-reader alive, and no one wants planners like that anymore at all. What is desired are policy wonks that can sell interpretations to the PC, ZA, and any public that gets off its duff.

    .

  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by jswanek View post
    .

    I'm the greatest zoning code proof-reader alive

    .
    That's amazing and cool.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian fareastsider's avatar
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    Im 18 months in my first public sector planning job. On the plus side I can we have a solid team that works well together tries to be consistent and fair for the most part. In fact that may be more important than my question. Short and to the point though is the lack of knowledge by staff and the boards about the zoning ordinance, law, and subdivision of land very common in the public sector? I am in a rural community and sometimes it shocks me. If anyone is interested PM me as I have some questions about the profession I'd like to discuss.

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