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Thread: Staff's inappropriate comments to ZBA members

  1. #1
    Cyburbian dandy_warhol's avatar
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    Staff's inappropriate comments to ZBA members

    Apparently at last night's ZBA meeting my Planner called out and went off on the Chair of the ZBA. His diatribe resulted in the Chair writing out, but not handing in her resignation. The Senior Planner was at the meeting as well and tried to diffuse the situation but was unable to shut up the Planner. Afterwards she did speak to him about his unprofessionalism. This morning Planner wrote an e-mail apology to me, PD, and Senior Planner and stated that he intends to write and phone an apology to all board members.

    I have some ideas but how would you handle this situation?
    In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. -Martin Luther King Jr.

  2. #2
    Corn Burning Fool giff57's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by dandy_warhol View post
    Apparently at last night's ZBA meeting my Planner called out and went off on the Chair of the ZBA. His diatribe resulted in the Chair writing out, but not handing in her resignation. The Senior Planner was at the meeting as well and tried to diffuse the situation but was unable to shut up the Planner. Afterwards she did speak to him about his unprofessionalism. This morning Planner wrote an e-mail apology to me, PD, and Senior Planner and stated that he intends to write and phone an apology to all board members.

    I have some ideas but how would you handle this situation?
    Depending upon employment history, time off without pay to discharge. You just cannot do that even if you apologize later.
    “As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with their persons, the State is not far from its fall”
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau

  3. #3
    Cyburbian SW MI Planner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by dandy_warhol View post
    Apparently at last night's ZBA meeting my Planner called out and went off on the Chair of the ZBA. His diatribe resulted in the Chair writing out, but not handing in her resignation. The Senior Planner was at the meeting as well and tried to diffuse the situation but was unable to shut up the Planner. Afterwards she did speak to him about his unprofessionalism. This morning Planner wrote an e-mail apology to me, PD, and Senior Planner and stated that he intends to write and phone an apology to all board members.

    I have some ideas but how would you handle this situation?
    Was it an issue with what the Planner said - was he incorrect in what he said, was he trying to correct comments made by the Chair? Or, was the issue with how he said it - rude, inappropriate? Or was it both? Is this a situation that has occurred before?

    Just curious, did the Senior Planner have authority to speak to him regarding his behavior?

    In my opinion, there are quite a few variables here. At the very least he should have a verbal counseling and/or write up over the incident.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian dandy_warhol's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by SW MI Planner View post
    Was it an issue with what the Planner said - was he incorrect in what he said, was he trying to correct comments made by the Chair? Or, was the issue with how he said it - rude, inappropriate? Or was it both? Is this a situation that has occurred before?

    Just curious, did the Senior Planner have authority to speak to him regarding his behavior?

    In my opinion, there are quite a few variables here. At the very least he should have a verbal counseling and/or write up over the incident.

    It was how he said it. He called the board negligent and then proceeded to tell them how their reasoning was wrong. It wasn't him stating that staff does not recommend the granting of the variance. It was done in a rude and confrontational manner. He hasn't harangued a Board member before but there have been other incidents (nothing of this scale) where he was unprofessional and confrontational.

    Yes, the Senior Planner does have authority. She doesn't supervise him but does oversee him.
    In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. -Martin Luther King Jr.

  5. #5
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by SW MI Planner View post
    Was it an issue with what the Planner said - was he incorrect in what he said, was he trying to correct comments made by the Chair? Or, was the issue with how he said it - rude, inappropriate? Or was it both? Is this a situation that has occurred before?

    Just curious, did the Senior Planner have authority to speak to him regarding his behavior?

    In my opinion, there are quite a few variables here. At the very least he should have a verbal counseling and/or write up over the incident.
    Agree - get the whole picture first

  6. #6
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Pretty inappropriate but I would let it pass. Sometimes Board members need to be put in line.

  7. #7
    So this person lived out every planners secret fantasy and went off on a board member? I'd give them a raise! j/k

    I would just have a talk with this person and maybe see if there is some sort of seminar or other training opportunity on professionalism that you could send them to as a pseudo-punishment disguised as continuing education. I'd also have that person issue a written apology to the chair and a public apology at the next meeting.

    Termination seems excessive. Maybe a 1-day unpaid suspension if it fits within your City's policies.

    I once raised my voice and snapped at some members when the Plan Commission didn't believe something I said. I can't recall the exact situation but I informed them that I had talked to the City Attorney and he had confirmed that something was ok. The mayor and one commission member said since they didn't have a legal opinion in writing they didn't believe me. That set me off. I laid into them saying that I was offended that they would say that, since I had worked there I had never misled or lied to them and if I were to lie to them about a legal opinion didn't they think that it would come out as soon as one of them talked to the City Attorney? I then asked why would I lie about something like this? They had no response but still held the item. Of course I got called into the Mayor's office the next morning. He actually wasn't that upset, he just didn't like staff and elected officials arguing out in public like that because it makes it look like staff didn't respect the Mayor's authority. Things actually got better after that.
    "I'm a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are."

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  8. #8
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    Ah, that sounds like fun. If it did happen as reported by the Senior Planner, it is a yellow card offense. We may not like board members but they volunteer their time and we get paid. We need to give them some deference and public respect. Any planner that doesn't do so - and I have known of some - need to quickly learn that this public respect is not optional.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian SW MI Planner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by dandy_warhol View post
    It was how he said it. He called the board negligent and then proceeded to tell them how their reasoning was wrong. It wasn't him stating that staff does not recommend the granting of the variance. It was done in a rude and confrontational manner. He hasn't harangued a Board member before but there have been other incidents (nothing of this scale) where he was unprofessional and confrontational.

    Yes, the Senior Planner does have authority. She doesn't supervise him but does oversee him.
    It's my opinion it is staff's responsibility to ensure boards are operating within their authority and try to minimize any legal reprecussions that may arise from their statements and decisions. I'm not sure how it works there, but in my world he would have been doing as expected, to advise the ZBA of staff's recommendation and basis for such recommendation, and further remind the board what their decision should be based upon. At the end of the day though, it's the boards decision.

    Having said that, the manner in which he did it was inexcusable; it lacks professionalism, respect, and will likely impact future trust and faith in the staff from the boards perspective. Even worse, it sounds like a pattern. I think whatever outcome happens, it should be a progression from past issues and consequences. If he's been talked to and written up before, than maybe a few days off without pay for this recent incident. If nothing has been done before, than definately a verbal counseling/write up of the incident to start the documentation process.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    Not to take away from this thread, but this is quite close to the same topic...

    How about Planning Board Members (specifically the Chair) inappropriate comments to Applicants?

  11. #11
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    At minimum, a written apology to the Chair/Board and note in the personnel file. Agree the most troubling aspect are the indications that this may be a pattern. If this guy really is one of those clueless individuals that unapologetically believes they are simply 'telling the truth' or 'telling it like it is' you may need to part company, and the sooner the better, for all concerned. Ours is a profession where basic tact is essential to doing the job. Telling citizens or Board members off publicly (however gratuitous it may feel at the moment) pretty much runs counter to our aims.
    People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern. It doesn't mean much now, except for the climate. The question, “Where are you from?” doesn't lead to anything odd or interesting. They live somewhere near a Gap store, and what else do you need to know? - Garrison Keillor

  12. #12
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    It sounds like you've got a pattern with the planner that has now made its way into the public domain. I don't care how stupid your board members are, they are volunteers. You can assertively communicate recommendations and advice regarding the authority/responsibility of the board without being unprofessional or disrespectful. It sounds like you've got a young planner that is on fire for the profession, which is fundamentally a good thing. That won't matter though if he/she keeps flying off the handle--as a mentor, you owe it to his/her career to correct this issue or else what might otherwise be the beginning of a bright career will go down in flames. He/she just needs to be channeled. If it is me:
    • written reprimand to file
    • public apology at the next board meeting
    • 1-day unpaid suspension (mainly just to make clear that you are not messing around and make it a mid-week day so they don't get a 3-day weekend out of it)
    • 6-month probation with a performance improvement plan, to include training relevant to communicating appropriately with fellow staff and officials, and no further incidents related to unprofessional/disrespectful communication. If he/she fails the performance improvement plan, arm the ejector seat.

    Basically, its a heavy yellow card in order to rapidly change the behavior before it really becomes a problem. You need to get the planner's attention and send a clear message.

    If it happens again and higher-ups get wind of it, that ball of shit will roll over you on its way to the planner.
    Last edited by Suburb Repairman; 03 Apr 2013 at 11:44 AM.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  13. #13
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by AG74683 View post
    Not to take away from this thread, but this is quite close to the same topic...

    How about Planning Board Members (specifically the Chair) inappropriate comments to Applicants?
    Or if the tables were reversed at the Board member was rude/abusive to staff?

  14. #14
    Cyburbian HomerJ's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Suburb Repairman View post
    You can assertively communicate recommendations and advice regarding the authority/responsibility of the board without being unprofessional or disrespectful. It sounds like you've got a young planner that is on fire for the profession, which is fundamentally a good thing.
    As a younger planner I can relate to this point.

    Part of what planners need to hold their hats on is the ability to see the big picture. Whatever reprimand you decide, I would reinforce the point that being right on one particular issue is not worth flying off the handle, especially when it negatively impacts the relationship between staff and board members.
    Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    I would probably issue him a written warning and make note of it at his annual preformance review. From that point I would counsel the employee on the proper manner to deal with the situation and inform him that if it happens again he will no longer be working for this fare city. The wirtten apologies are nice but at the next ZBA he would also need to apologize at the beginning of the meeting.
    "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less" General Eric Shinseki

  16. #16
    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller View post
    Or if the tables were reversed at the Board member was rude/abusive to staff?
    It has been my experience that nothing will ever be done about this, no matter where you work. Its the planners version of hazard pay, I guess.
    "I'm a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are."

    - Homer Simpson

  17. #17
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Repo Man View post
    It has been my experience that nothing will ever be done about this, no matter where you work. Its the planners version of hazard pay, I guess.
    So true. Can't tell you the number of times I've seen staff get bullied by Board members and elected officials.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian
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    A peer got written up for telling a board member during a vote his abstention would kill a project. The board member wanted to abstain because he "didn't know much about the issue". So because this board member didn't do his homework a good project died. I guess the planner was told to not intervene and let the commission vote the way they want to. Don't know what I would do in that situation... but it sounds like there is no single standard for what punishment is appropriate.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    He just did what all of us have wanted to do SO badly. In my last job, I once had a historic commission member state straight up that I hadn't sent the board a piece of critical documentation prior to the meeting - everyone else had it, but he didn't. He had called me out - erroneously - in front of the whole board and the clerk. I didn't talk back to him; I simply bit my tongue and re-forwarded the original email to him the next day as proof while CCing the planning director and clerk, both of whom totally had my back. He looked like a total ass but got to save face in front of the rest of the commission. My PD spoke to the board chair one on one and told her that she won't put up with her staff being treated that way. I guess the moral of the story is that while planners are punching bags for appointed and elected and officials while in public, you can and most definitely should still set them straight outside of the confines of a public meeting.

    As far as this particular planner, though, I think a bit of disciplinary action is in order. Certainly not termination, but a message needs to be sent so that it doesn't become a pattern. The fact that he didn't just let this guy roll over him shows that he still hasn't had all of his spirit beaten out of him yet by his planning career.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Suburb Repairman View post
    It sounds like you've got a pattern with the planner that has now made its way into the public domain. I don't care how stupid your board members are, they are volunteers. You can assertively communicate recommendations and advice regarding the authority/responsibility of the board without being unprofessional or disrespectful. It sounds like you've got a young planner that is on fire for the profession, which is fundamentally a good thing. That won't matter though if he/she keeps flying off the handle--as a mentor, you owe it to his/her career to correct this issue or else what might otherwise be the beginning of a bright career will go down in flames. He/she just needs to be channeled. If it is me:
    • written reprimand to file
    • public apology at the next board meeting
    • 1-day unpaid suspension (mainly just to make clear that you are not messing around and make it a mid-week day so they don't get a 3-day weekend out of it)
    • 6-month probation with a performance improvement plan, to include training relevant to communicating appropriately with fellow staff and officials, and no further incidents related to unprofessional/disrespectful communication. If he/she fails the performance improvement plan, arm the ejector seat.

    Basically, its a heavy yellow card in order to rapidly change the behavior before it really becomes a problem. You need to get the planner's attention and send a clear message.
    Best course of action. I have been known to be a little crass at the counter. I think it mainly has to do with the certain types of professionals i deal with at the counter whom should know a little bit about the biz, but in the end know almost next to nothing 9/10 **cough real estate agents cough**. However in a public meeting, while i may disagree with a point of a commissioner or their "grandstanding" i certainly keep it to myself. Honestly, about 1/4 of our PC/ZBA get it. The others.. well.. umm . As for our City Council, well a recent article from our alternative regional paper in regards to my employer's implementation of zoning rules is sadly spot on and that's because well our City council are elected officials, so i guess that reflects the will of the people?

    With that said, I am always pleasant, up beat with our elected and appointed officials always trying to go the extra mile for them even though internally i do not believe in their politics nor their points of view.

    I don't know how "green" Dandy's Planner is, but those that are reading this with little to know public sector experience should remember this quote from office space:



    Remember, you sadly do have "eight bosses". From your PD/Supervisor to the mayor, CM, etc. Always someone many to answer to. Always remember that.
    follow me on the twitter @rcplans

  21. #21
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by paiste13 View post
    A peer got written up for telling a board member during a vote his abstention would kill a project. The board member wanted to abstain because he "didn't know much about the issue". So because this board member didn't do his homework a good project died. I guess the planner was told to not intervene and let the commission vote the way they want to. Don't know what I would do in that situation... but it sounds like there is no single standard for what punishment is appropriate.
    Off-topic:
    actually what should have happened there is to have said "I am sorry that abstentions are only allowed if the member has a conflict of interest - another course of action to consider is to table the application for further review" - staff can interject but carefully and always with an option

  22. #22
    I fall into the "write him up and he gets a unpaid day off middle of the week" camp. I don't know how many times I've bitten my tounge until it bled. At the end of the day, it's about professionalism. I would also pull him aside and give him a bit of a pep talk about there is a time and place for everything. That venting is healthy but should be done behind closed doors with trusted friends and coworkers and away from recording devices
    When did I go from Luke Skywalker to Obi-Wan Kenobi?

  23. #23
    Cyburbian
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    I don't dig authoritarianism. Just let it go.

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