Urban planning community

+ Reply to thread
Results 1 to 3 of 3

Thread: Challenging Planning Commission?

  1. #1
    Member blevy's avatar
    Registered
    Jul 2010
    Location
    4 Corners
    Posts
    22

    Challenging Planning Commission?

    How do you deal with a challenging planning commission? I am currently struggling with several commissioners who have no problem cutting staff off in the middle of their recommendations. It's getting to the point where staff is wondering what their role is when they're discouraged to offer advice. And the chairperson is the biggest culprit. Any suggestions or stories of woe would be greatly appreciated!

  2. #2
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
    Registered
    Jun 2003
    Location
    at the neighboring pub
    Posts
    5,202
    Quote Originally posted by blevy View post
    How do you deal with a challenging planning commission? I am currently struggling with several commissioners who have no problem cutting staff off in the middle of their recommendations. It's getting to the point where staff is wondering what their role is when they're discouraged to offer advice. And the chairperson is the biggest culprit. Any suggestions or stories of woe would be greatly appreciated!
    How much detail is in the staff report? Are they cutting off because you're simply regurgitating the report and they've already read it? Do they frequently disregard recommendations? Are meetings televised? How large is the city in question? All of these things influence the approach you should take. A little more detail will allow the Throbbing Brain of CyburbiaTM to provide better advice. An appropriate response for you will also depend on your individual personality.

    I'm going to assume that they are disregarding recommendations on a very frequent basis. And it sounds like your Chair is a classic bully, meaining it will take being granted some ability to assert yourself from your boss to really nip the issue. With this involving the Chair, I would suggest instituting a "pre-meeting" with him & your vice-chair before each meeting. I used to do these the day before a meeting over lunch, which allowed me the opportunity to warn them if we were expecting a large turnout for a public hearing, and to give some extra information on background issues that don't appear in the report. I found that, with a bully Chair, this stroked his ego enough that he backed off in the meeting itself. It also allowed him to take credit for ideas and to champion recommendations. It also allows them to get to know you in a less formal setting.

    It really depends on what your city manager will let you get away with. My current one is pretty comfortable with me shaming individual members and exercising parliamentary procedure. I don't have any problems with my current commission. Not a lot of city managers will give you that long of a leash though. One thing that has helped is that every year, when we have a couple of new Commissioners, the ENTIRE Commission gets put through the training presentation. This training is mandatory annually (as stated in the Commission's bylaws approved by City Council). The role of staff is a major component--with lots of talk of subject matter expertise, how recommendations are formulated, role as parliamentarian, rules of decorum & conduct, etc. They should feel comfortable asking us any question that comes to mind, but should also allow us to provide a complete answer. They should also be comfortable disagreeing with a staff recommendation, but need to understand the importance of explaining why (both for the record and to help staff better understand their perspective).

    Some tactics that have worked for me in the past, depending on the specific situation and severity:
    • simply having the city manager attend the meeting periodically--Commissioner behavior tends to improve with the exposure
    • have the city manager encourage a councilmember or two to attend--again, this tends to improve Commissioner behavior
    • explain your problem to the city manager (mine discussed it with a couple of councilmembers, who had an offline discussion with the problem Commissioner)
    • a discussion about legal liability if cases end up in court--it is a distinct possibility that city staff, as subject matter experts, may end up testifying against the city's decision depending on how well formulated the Commission's basis for decision/recommendation is. A city attorney can be helpful.

    and... and I'm not being facetious here... bring snacks to the meetings--particularly if you can do homemade. It costs you a couple of dollars, but builds a tremendous amount of goodwill with your Commission. Simply put, it is harder for them to disrespect someone that treats them well--it may be out of kindness, or their fear of coming off like a complete asshole in the eyes of the public. Truthfully, I have not had a major issue with a Commissioner since I started doing this. While they may still disagree with a recommendation, it is done respectfully after hearing our basis and they provide an explanation for why they disagree.

    and sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and keep fighting the good fight, even if you aren't getting anywhere. Politics change. Commissioners change. Look for other ways to build morale in your staff.

    When it comes down to it, as staff we have to realize that all planning is politics, and that just because something seems clearly rational to us doesn't insulate the decision from that reality. We operate in a democracy, and that means that some decisions will simply become references for future staff's to use as warning beacons of past mistakes. I'm not sure I would've gotten my connectivity ratio passed were it not for a great on-the-ground example of a subdivision whose access & traffic issues were such a complete clusterf*** (and which was approved over staff objections at that time).

    "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)

  3. #3
    Member blevy's avatar
    Registered
    Jul 2010
    Location
    4 Corners
    Posts
    22
    Thank you Suburb Repairman! These are excellent suggestions! Even though I didn't explain my exact situation, I think you nailed it. I try not to rehash my staff report to avoid being repetitive. I mostly get cut off when giving advice on everything, but they get rude when it's procedure. The first time it happened was when I had only been on for about a month. One commissioner was questioning noticing requirements and when I tried to reassure him, I got this... "are you a lawyer, because I am and I don't care what you have to say." A few weeks ago they wanted to put plan review checklists in the code which would codify an internal procedure. Then at the last meeting, the chair wanted to amend the agenda to move an item that the audience was there to hear to the end, which would mean that they'd stick around for about 3 hours before getting to their topic, but when I tried to recommend against this, I got, "this is our agenda, not yours," so they amended the agenda, then totally ignored their amendment and went in the original order anyway. It's just weird! I've been working with all kinds of boards for 10 years and never seen anything like this.

+ Reply to thread

More at Cyburbia

  1. Planning Commission talkers
    Friday Afternoon Club
    Replies: 8
    Last post: 05 Dec 2007, 7:34 PM
  2. Vacancy on the Planning Commission
    Career Development and Advice
    Replies: 4
    Last post: 08 Dec 2006, 10:42 PM
  3. Advising a planning commission
    Make No Small Plans
    Replies: 3
    Last post: 26 Jul 2006, 11:04 AM
  4. Does anyone sit on a planning commission?
    Career Development and Advice
    Replies: 12
    Last post: 09 May 2006, 12:47 PM
  5. Challenging development of GCs
    Make No Small Plans
    Replies: 3
    Last post: 08 Mar 2004, 5:48 PM