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Thread: Ethics Question - When Should You Remove Yourself From A Project

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Ethics Question - When Should You Remove Yourself From A Project

    Ethics question for our practicing Planners:

    My co-worker asked if they should remove themselves as the lead planner for a variance application that is approximately 1800 feet from her house. They do not fall within our noticing area from the project, but she asked and I told her well, maybe, can you be objectionable? (my view is to deny the variance, but than again, I don't do variances). What say you? Hard / Fast rule set up by your City Attorney / PD?
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  2. #2
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Announce in the reports and at the hearing that you are a neighbor, that proximity has nothing to do with your opinion, for a completely transparent process. Ask if the board has any objections, and if they do, so be it (they won't). Uh, do not ask the city attourney.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Plus JNA's avatar
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    I agree with mike gurnee announce that you live in the neighborhood.
    If they are not in the required notice buffer then they don't likely have a stake/interest in the outcome, except for my question below -

    Did not mention
    if they were related either by family or any other way ?
    Or
    would gain financially from the project ?
    Oddball
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    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    State laws may have an opinion on this. But it also depends on how many people live within that 1800 feet. Where I used to live, there would have been hundreds of people closer than me to a project if I was 1800 feet from it.

  5. #5
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    Staff cannot remove themselves from the process - even if it goes to another staff member to review, it's still the department as a cohesive unit

    this is why I agree she discloses it in the staff report without any other reference/comment and that she makes sure her demeanor continues as consistent with how she would review and respond to any project as part of her job

    this is why I am agaist residency requirements for planners, btw, but that's another thread...

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    1,800 feet seems like a lot to be concerned about. If you apply an 1,800 feet radius around any point, that's 10.2 million sq ft or 234 acres. That's 35% of the above-water land-area of Hoboken, NJ. If you were the planner there, you'd be disqualified from working on over a third of the city! I'm pretty sure that more than one urban planner in San Diego lives in the various neighborhoods of downtown, which is about 2 square miles.. By an 1,800 feet radius rule, they'd be disqualified from working on 20% of Centre City. If you lived in or even near the Vatican City in Rome, you couldn't be a planner there at all. Vatican City is only 108 acres. For dense places, 1,800 wouldn't work, I'd think.
    Last edited by Cismontane; 14 Mar 2013 at 12:26 PM.

  7. #7
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    If she is 1800 feet away, is she still even in the same neighborhood? That is a huge distance. If you feel it is necessary to disclose given the circumstances/attitudes of your particular city, then by all means go ahead. But at more than 1/4 mile it seems unnecessary.

    Closest I've had to this situation was a zoning change in which my planning director fell within the 200' notice area. She excused herself completely from the case, and had me arrange to vet our staff report/recommendation through a planning director in the adjacent city so that she didn't see the recommendation until the meeting. She wanted to ensure that there was no way it could be perceived that she was influencing the staff due to her own interest.
    Last edited by Suburb Repairman; 14 Mar 2013 at 3:50 PM.

    "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)

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    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Sounds like legally all is ok and I am on the fence about the need to disclose if the staff member is indeed outside of the 1800 feet. But the more important question to me is whether the staff member's proximity in any way impacts their opinion on the variance. If it does, that's an issue and that person should probably recuse themselves from the decision making. I am not necessarily thinking about the legal concerns (stands to profit, related to people impacted) but even more personal ones like whether this benefits a friend. That might be legal, but is still problematic to the degree that it effects objectivity.
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    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Thanks all for the responses. Honestly, with a Variance we have very specific findings that need to be made, and simply stating a "carport will ruin my view" is not one of those. Since it is outside the noticing area, we will not disclose due to no financial gain, nor does she know the applicant.

    We are a very large lot community, so the 1,000 foot rule really captures the "neighborhood" around these parts. Because of the discussion we are now thinking about disclosures for the large specific plan where she is the lead planner and that project is considered "in her neighborhood". We are thinking about disclosing the distance in a memo to the file since we will be sued, as well as disclosing my previous work on said specific plan from my previous employer.

    I agree with LP, requirement rules are pretty crappy, especially for a planner and if you job is not in a large metro. This is the percise reason why i do not work/live in the same location. It keeps me objectionable and at the end of the day i can leave the politics behind and retreat to my bubble down the hill where all the hot girls live lol.
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  10. #10
    I've only once lived in the same jurisdiction that I worked. It helps with the separation between the personal and professional worlds. On topic, I would use the same standard as I do for my PC members. If you or an immediate family member are directly financially affected by the outcome, you should recuse yourself. The perception of objectivity must be maintained by the public. Further, it would short curcuit and potnetial lawsuit.
    When did I go from Luke Skywalker to Obi-Wan Kenobi?

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    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    ack - how can you recuse yourself - you're staff, you don't vote!

    disclose and be a robot in your review

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by luckless pedestrian View post
    ack - how can you recuse yourself - you're staff, you don't vote!

    disclose and be a robot in your review
    It's not a question of voting, but rather can you be objectionable, i.e. man that thing is ugly i don't want to see it in my neighborhood kind of thing.
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    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    why am I so crabby today? If I could go to FAC I would tell you!

    Yes but she's staff so the word recuse is not the right perspective

    if she can't be obective, then, sure have someone else review it but she should be able to be objective as a professional planner - so I still say she discloses and then acts with the same level of demeanor as any other application...

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by luckless pedestrian View post
    Yes but she's staff so the word recuse is not the right perspective

    if she can't be obective, then, sure have someone else review it but she should be able to be objective as a professional planner - so I still say she discloses and then acts with the same level of demeanor as any other application...
    WWLPD

    What Would LP Do?
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  15. #15
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Raf View post
    WWLPD

    What Would LP Do?
    Off-topic:

  16. #16
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Raf View post
    Since it is outside the noticing area, we will not disclose due to no financial gain, nor does she know the applicant.
    You do what your boss/attouney advise. However, planning ethics IMO are all about perceptions. If someone wants to argue about a conflict, address it before it happens. In KS there has to be a "direct financial interest". But I would always go further. It is so much easier to kill the argument before it happens by letting the board know you may or may not be a neighbor (and that it did not influence your always objective analysis).

  17. #17
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Raf View post

    We are a very large lot community, so the 1,000 foot rule really captures the "neighborhood" around these parts.
    Ahhh... Then yes, I think disclosure is definitely in order given those circumstances.

    "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)

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