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Hearings protocol

Streck

Cyburbian
Messages
610
Points
18
I am on a Planning Commission and have occassionally been called on to chair meetings during Public Hearings and regular matters. What is the recommended correct protocol in handling an item before the Commission from start to end of the matter at the meeting (including roll of presenter, city staff/planner/zoning administrator, Commissioners, attorneys, public participation, time allowances, etc.)?
 

mike gurnee

Cyburbian
Messages
3,066
Points
31
We put it in our by-laws. Some may argue, but our staff report comes first. This was done after a few years experience, where matters can get way out of hand with loads of extraneous thoughts. The staff report should set the tone for the ensuing discussion, and provide the pertinent points for the board to consider (well, sometimes).

Basically, we have: staff report, applicant presentation, audience for, audience con, rebuttals. We don't have that many cases, but the chair has the right to limit discussion to certain time frames and to halt repititious remarks as necessary.

We also prohibit two-way conversations: there have been too many shouting matches between neighbors (and staff). Questions should come from the board, participants and staff should not answer questions from presentors.

We also make it clear that the board members are citizen volunteers, not lawyers or judges.

I would be glad to e-mail our by-laws if you would like.
 
Messages
7,649
Points
29
I don't know anything about such hearings per se, but I have heard good things about a book called "Robert's Rules of Order" (I think that is the name -- someone correct me if I am wrong). It has a lot of ideas about how to run an orderly meeting of any kind, as I understand it.
 

Streck

Cyburbian
Messages
610
Points
18
Thanks. I have a copy of Roberts, and it is on the web, too.

Robert's gets a little too involved for the average Planning meeting. I think we have the basics of conducting a meeting down including motions and amendments. It is just that Hearings and applicant presentations are special items, and I thought some Planners would have some good recommendations on what works best in their experience, particularly the order (and what) in which a matter is presented.
 

ludes98

Cyburbian
Messages
1,264
Points
22
It will depend on where you are. Some states are more judicial, like swearing in witnesses and most work is done by attorneys. I think New Mexico is like that. (Dan?) Most jurisdictions here (AZ) run meetings as described by mike gurnee. Not allowing two way conversations is key to keeping meetings under control. Most meetings, the chair will explain the procedure for citizens, since they likely have not attended or spoken before at a hearing.
 
Messages
7,649
Points
29
Streck said:
Thanks. I have a copy of Roberts, and it is on the web, too.
Oh? Can you post the link? I want to start a "tool box" for citizen planners and that sounds like it would be a good edition... or, after I start the "tool box" thread, you could just post the link there. :)
 

donk

Cyburbian
Messages
6,970
Points
30
Roberts rules tends to define the protocol between those people who are empowered to make the decisons, not the people making an application or representing the departmnet's opinion.

If you are looking for a somewhat easier to read and follow rule book, check out "call to order" by herb perry. It is basically a dummies guide to Blacks Law and Roberts Rules, with good commentary and examples of how things should be done. It is focussed on providing info for non profit volunteer boards.

On running a meeting, as a person who both chairs them and is a cog in teh machin at others, Mike's description is exactly how I run a meeting and how I work within the framework. When I am a cog in the machine, when I start a presentation, I always outline how I'd like it to go, then ask for confirmation from the chair that what I outlined is acceptable.

I also tend to prefer to run a less formal meeting, when the public starts hearing to much formal procedural stuff, it can scare them away or make them nervous.
 

Streck

Cyburbian
Messages
610
Points
18
Michele Zone said:
Oh? Can you post the link? I want to start a "tool box" for citizen planners and that sounds like it would be a good edition... or, after I start the "tool box" thread, you could just post the link there. :)

www.robertsrules.com
 

Streck

Cyburbian
Messages
610
Points
18
Let me expose myself here and tell you what I do when in the Chair.

The case title and what the application is for is announced.

I ask who is representing the applicant for the record, and ask them to come forward. I ask him to summarize his request to us in about one minute or less. (This allows Commission members to sift through their papers to find the right application, and briefs the public on the item before us. This also allows the applicant to let us know of any last minute changes or additions or clarifications to his application if applicable.)

I ask the Zoning Administrator for his comments. Usually there are his staff notes that he provides for all members prior to the meeting and he summarizes any remaining items of concern.

If it is a Public Hearing, I open the Public Hearing and ask if anyone is here to speak for or against this applicatiion. If a lot of hands go up, I may announce that there will be a 10 or 15 minute total time limit on speakers on each side of the question. I ask if there is any written material to be presented by opponents. We usually have a half dozen applications each meeting and meetings can get very lengthy.

I ask that all questions to be addressed to the Chair to avoid personal confrontations between applicant and the public. I give the applicant an opportunity to respond to each question if he wishes to. If there are a lot of people in opposition, I ask the applicant to take notes of the questions and respond at the end. Then I repeat a sweep of the audience to see if there are any additional questions in response to the applicant's explanations. I give the applicant one last opportunity to respond to the second wave of questions.

I then close the Public Hearing, and ask if any Commission members have any comments, questions, or motions. The Commission members know they can ask any questions of the applicant or of the public to help them clarify points raised, but the Public Hearing has been closed and the Chair is not obligated to hear any additional comments from the public.

After discussion by the Commission, I ask for a motion to approve or deny. If no one makes such a motion, I declare that the reason we are here is to make a determination for a recommendation to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen, so I simply state, "all those in favor of the application, . . ." etc.

The city attorney, hydraulic engineer consultant, and public works chief, are sometimes present, but do not participate unless asked.

We do not tape the proceedings, but the Zoning Administrator's secretary takes summary minutes.

I will sometimes annouce (if there are a lot of people in opposition) that as a reminder, the public is not here to vote as to whether they think this application should be approved or not, but to provide the Commission (and city) with any additional information relating to the case that we might not be aware of such as prior agreements, covenants, deed restrictions, or other legal matters of record that have not been considered.

I would appreciate your suggestions on how this process may be handled better.
 

Wulf9

Member
Messages
923
Points
22
What Mike Gurnee said, except we don't separated audience pro and con. It's just a public hearing and pros and cons speak when they want.

After public hearing the Commission discusses and acts.
 

Lee Nellis

Cyburbian
Messages
1,369
Points
29
First, your procedure is pretty good, although I think you have one major flaw. Here are some thoughts:

1) It is a pain, and it is expensive, but you should tape the meetings. Some states require it, but even if yours does not, it is really helpful if you have to go to court. It also takes some of the heat off the minutes taker.

2) If there are any material changes (density, access, etc.) the hearing should end right there. The public attending the hearing has a right for the hearing to be on the application as it was submitted. So do your board members. Otherwise no one is really prepared.

3) Here's the major flaw: Taking comments from opposing "sides" is incredibly counterproductive. It starts the proceedings off with an implicit assumption that there are only two perspectives on the case being discussed, and worse yet, with the assumption that we (the members of the community) are not all in this together, that we are not trying to find a solution that works for everyone. It also walls out people who are trying to be reasonable, forcing them to pick a side when they would prefer not to. It also, to put it another way, assumes that the hearing is actually irrelevant, except for the strutting and posturing! If everyone has already decided how they feel about the project, hearing the facts is unnecessary.
 

Streck

Cyburbian
Messages
610
Points
18
Lee Nellis said:
First, your procedure is pretty good, although I think you have one major flaw. Here are some thoughts:

1) It is a pain, and it is expensive, but you should tape the meetings. Some states require it, but even if yours does not, it is really helpful if you have to go to court. It also takes some of the heat off the minutes taker.

Thanks. Good point.

Lee Nellis said:
2) If there are any material changes (density, access, etc.) the hearing should end right there. The public attending the hearing has a right for the hearing to be on the application as it was submitted. So do your board members. Otherwise no one is really prepared.

Please elaborate. I think I understand what you are saying here. We have a formal Application, then the city Staff has written comments, and the Applicant submits written responses, sometimes agreeing to changes and sometimes not. Are you saying that the public needs to know about all the changes agreed to? Sometimes these are not resolved until the day of the meeting. Do we need to readvertise if anything changes? Determining what is significant and what is not could also be a sticky situation.

Lee Nellis said:
3) Here's the major flaw: Taking comments from opposing "sides" is incredibly counterproductive. It starts the proceedings off with an implicit assumption that there are only two perspectives on the case being discussed, and worse yet, with the assumption that we (the members of the community) are not all in this together, that we are not trying to find a solution that works for everyone. It also walls out people who are trying to be reasonable, forcing them to pick a side when they would prefer not to. It also, to put it another way, assumes that the hearing is actually irrelevant, except for the strutting and posturing! If everyone has already decided how they feel about the project, hearing the facts is unnecessary.

Good point. I mean it to say that everyone is invited to speak, whether opposed or not. This can be expressed differently. Do you have any suggestions, or should we just say something like, "Is there anyone present that would like to speak to this issue?" or "Is there anyone here that would like to present additional (written) information bearing on the application?"

Did I get your point on this?
 

Lee Nellis

Cyburbian
Messages
1,369
Points
29
Re last minute changes: the ideal way to deal with this is to require that the application be complete before the hearing is scheduled and, in the letter stating that a complete application has been received and a hearing date set, note clearly that any changes will result in the hearing being cancelled. It is reasonable to allow very minor changes, but those should not affect the basics, like the density of the project. It can be tough to implement this policy, but it just isn't fair to anyone except the applicant to allow material changes just before, or even at the hearing.

I also see that some of the changes are in response to staff comments. The staff should certainly be able to influence the nature of the application that is filed, but once it is filed, the remaining staff recommendations should be adopted by the Planning Commission before the developer agrees to anything. After all, you may disagree with the staff.

Yes, I believe you got my point about the opposing sides. Just asking if anyone would like to speak is sufficient. It may also be good for you as the chair to remind folks that all comments must address the merits of the application, as determined by its compliance or failure to comply with the jurisdiction's regulations.
 

Chet

Cyburbian Emeritus
Messages
10,623
Points
34
Streck -- I have used several over the years and found Mike Gurnee's to be the most productive. Lee Nellis also has some great input on changes. I underwstand your concern that some procedures can be too burdensome fror smaller communities, but I'm sure you can strike a happy medium.

However, I will add one thing for you to consider for those anticipated contentious hearings. In some cases, we have required those that wish to speak to sign up ahead of time as for or against, and they are taken in order. This avoids several things:

1) Curiosity killing the hearing. The notices say information is available or review prior to the hearing. DO NOT GET UP AND ASK STUPID QUESTION. You are there to speak for or against, and state why. Not ask what type of evergreen is in the buffer. It peeves me when people do not do their research! How hard is it to pick up the phone and call the planner? By requiring someone to register "for" or "against" it keeps the hearing on focus.

2) Stopping unnecessary citizen rebuttals. By taking them in order registered to speak, it helps maintian order. I've witnessed too many cases of hearings breaking down into resident X rebutting resident Y's comments. Inappropriate!

Also, keep in mind that while you want to faciltiiate a public process, sometimes a heavy gavel - early in the process rather than later - is the best approach. In particularly emotional matters the attendees occassionally need to be reminded that you are in control and deserve a measure of their respect.
 

Streck

Cyburbian
Messages
610
Points
18
Chet said:
Streck -- I have used several over the years and found Mike Gurnee's to be the most productive. Lee Nellis also has some great input on changes. I underwstand your concern that some procedures can be too burdensome fror smaller communities, but I'm sure you can strike a happy medium.

However, I will add one thing for you to consider for those anticipated contentious hearings. In some cases, we have required those that wish to speak to sign up ahead of time as for or against, and they are taken in order.

Thanks. Does anyone provide a brief written advisory for the public as to the nature of proper types of questions to ask, and material to present?
 

ludes98

Cyburbian
Messages
1,264
Points
22
Chet said:
.
2) Stopping unnecessary citizen rebuttals. By taking them in order registered to speak, it helps maintian order. I've witnessed too many cases of hearings breaking down into resident X rebutting resident Y's comments. Inappropriate!

I would also extend that to exclude repetitive comments from citizens. It isn't necessary to hear everyone opposed (or for) to say the exact same thing. Citizens might feel they don't get their say, but the comment is on the record and under consideration by the commission.
 

Lee Nellis

Cyburbian
Messages
1,369
Points
29
I agree with Chet that it is sometimes appropriate - in the case of hearings where a lot of folks may want to speak or where things are pretty polarized - to have people who wish to speak register to do so. It saves time and gives the chair a simple way of dealing with extraneous comments.

I would add that it never hurts to emphasize the value of written statements, which can be read and given proper consideration by your commission members. Many people just won't provide written comments, but encouraging them can only help. I stand by my statement that forcing folks to sign up as "for" or "against" is both unfair and incredibly counterproductive. A successful planning process is one that brings people together, and this is about as blunt a way of empasizing differences as I can imagine.

I do have a technique that speaks to Chet's point about hearings being killed by information. I have often scheduled a question and answer session, conducted by staff, before a hearing, sometimes on the same evening, sometimes a week or two before. Not everyone will come, but it does cut down on information questions.
 

mike gurnee

Cyburbian
Messages
3,066
Points
31
Lee,
Good points on the pro-con stuff. I will have our boards reconsider. Several times a person gets up who just wants more info on the proposal. BTW, I always love it when an objector asks for a show of hands during their presentation.

We also included in our by-laws that written comments are welcome, and would be considered as if the person was present.
 

Streck

Cyburbian
Messages
610
Points
18
I like the idea of written comments, thinking that they would be concise.

But what if some attorney type person dumps a whole file folder on us at the Public Hearing? Do we postpone the decision until Staff has has time to read and analyze and recommend? Could this just be a delaying tactic? What would be the fair response?

This has almost happend before, and we tried to scan the material for pertinent info, but I am not sure we did justice to it. After the meeting, nobody wanted to go back over the material, because the vote had already been taken.
 

maximov

Cyburbian
Messages
137
Points
6
Speaking as a member of the public who has attended a heckuvalotta public hearings, my pet peeves are:

1) the amendment or proposal in question is not available to review until the night of the meeting
2) it was available, but has substantially changed somewhere along the way
3) much time is spent, question by question, providing the public info it should already have (although a summary at the beginning is really helpful)
4) comments are repeated: it would be nice if there were a way for anybody to show agreement with a comment as it is made, making this unecessary

I would utterly resent being required to choose my stance before I could speak, because like to think I usually speak up to offer a suggestion to solve a problem, not a complaint to exacerbate one.
 

Lee Nellis

Cyburbian
Messages
1,369
Points
29
One could require that written comments be filed before the hearing, so that they can be "read" into the record of the hearing. Staff could distribute to commission members before the hearing. Or you could just build a two-week delay into all decisions. I don't like the built-in delay, but it is not unreasonable.
 

NHPlanner

A shadow of my former self
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
9,961
Points
41
On the subject of plans that have "changed" and are presented at public hearings....

Don't allow it. We have a deadline of 2 weeks in advance of a Planning Board meeting, and the plans submitted on that date are the ones that get presented to the Planning Board. No exceptions. That way, staff, the Board, the public, and the applicant all have 2 weeks to prepare for the hearing, and know that the plans will not change.
 

Gedunker

Moderating
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
11,549
Points
42
maximov said:
...my pet peeves are: <snip>
4) comments are repeated: it would be nice if there were a way for anybody to show agreement with a comment as it is made, making this unecessary
<snip>

Mine as well. I spend a great deal of time with Commission chairs/Board presidents reminding them that repetition serves two purposes: slowing down the deliberative process and annoying all involved.

"Okay drainage is an issue. Does anybody have anything to add that we haven't heard on drainage? No. Okay. We'll deal with that. Next, traffic speeds are an issue...." You get the idea.

Nonetheless, we get chairs that feel that if the public has taken the time to come, then they should be allowed to state whatever they like, even if it's the 43rd person to comment about drainage. Ughhhhhhhh. :-#
 

SGB

Cyburbian
Messages
3,388
Points
26
Stating what should be obvious

Keep in mind that any procedural protocol is absolutely useless if your board chairperson is unwilling to stick unwaiveringly to it.

I've seen chairs let public hearing go to !@#$ in a handbasket just so (s)he could let a friend have their say at an inappropriate time in the process.
 
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