As many of you are aware, I'm the planner for a small Florida town. Being a lone planner, that theoretically makes me the planning director -- pretty much, the one in municipal government who's in charge of land use issues.
Or so I thought.
Here's the situation I'm facing. The town manager, before he became the town manager, was the assistant town manager and acting town planner. He's got a B.S. in Planning, and was a planner for another local government for a couple of years before he came to the town. (FWIW, I've got eight years of planning experience under my belt, and I'm AICP.) When he was the acting town planner, the town manager didn't really handle land use issues -- it was left in the hands of the planner.
That's not the case now. I know planner types can be passionate about the built environment, and it's difficult to "let go" -- I find myself getting upset about recent bad land use decisions in a place where I worked ten years ago. I'm finding that I'm running into that "can't let go" attitude -- from his end. A few examples off the top of my head:
* When planners from other towns need to contact someone in our town about a land use issue of mutual concern, they usually call him -- not me. No "Dan's the planner ... you should talk to him."
* When the Town's elected officials have a concern about a land use issue, they contact him -- not me. No "Dan's the planner ... you should talk to him" in this case, either.
* He'll ask me to change my staff reports, and even cange recommendations -- not to reflect some Town policy that I don't know about, but to address his view on what he feels is the proper implementation of the Zoning Code or Comp Plan -- not mine. One example: I recommended denial on a variance request because there was no hardship, and it didn't meet four of six criteria for recommending approval of a variance. He told me to recommend approval instead, because he talked with the applicant earlier and said that there shouldn't be a problem.
* I've got a 200 page draft of the Development Code -- written in house. He wouldn't let me present it to the Planning Commission until he had a chance to review it and make changes. It's been sitting on his desk since December. In an act of what could be called "assertiveness" or "insubordination" depending on how you look at it, I gave copies to the P&Z Board last week. (He doesn't know; he doesn't attend P&Z meetings, and fortunately the P&Z Board seems to respect my role as the town planner.) My POV -- draft the code, tune it up in workshops with the Board, and give it to the Town Commission for thier consideration.
* During staff report presentations to the Town Commission, sometimes he'll interrupt to "clarify" one of my positions. Last meeting was particulatly bad -- he jumped in to answer all the questions from the audience and commissioners! Several times, he's given me the "cut it off" sign -- not for lack of time, either. I'm not permitted to freely approach the commissioners outside of the meetings.
The town manager is a good manager -- honest, ethical, intelligent, and definitely not incompetent or a tyrant. The thing is that he ... can't ... let ... go. I've asked the question before -- "Am I the planning director, or am I an assistant planner?" I never got a straight answer. My salary is about what a mid-level planner in a larger municipality 'round these parts would make.
I'm wondering -- how much autonomy do lone planners usually have? How much autonomy should they have?