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Volunteers on Top

Wow, Perry. Big question and a very thoughtful essay, as always.

My short answer to your question is that if Elaine Cogan's criteria and yours (good person) are working, then staff should not be surprised by the actions of commissioners and vice versa as they will be constanlty working together and listening if not always agreeing with each other.

My own observations have been that commission members sometimes seek these positions for reasons of power, prestige, as a stepping stone to higher office or are selected for these positions by reason of their politics. A somewhat cynical view perhaps but unfortunately I think it happens often enough to result in delaying projects with interminable requests for information as a means of killing them (dishonest), disaaproval of projects beacuse of politics (public outcry) not planning and conversely, approval of projects because of politics - usually expansion of the tax base - not planning.

I have some other thoughts on volunteerism which may be a little off the point so I may use a second post.


John Yoegel
Volunteer on top

It seems to me that your essay Perry, brings up a second broader question of the impact/importance of volunteerism. For starters how about the professional planner in one jurisdiction (where he/she works) volunteering for the planning commission or other unpaid volunteer governmental position in the jurisdiction where he/she lives.

I have mixed feelings on the whole question of volunteering, ie work for no pay. Serve food at a soup kitchen, work in a hospital, maybe even sereve on the board of directors of a charitable institution. These are all great and probably necessary, saving many worthy causes many dollars they would otherwis have to pay in salaries.

But volunteering my professional expertise, that which I should be payed for, I think must be done judiciously. I must admit to having had what may have been an unfortunate and perhaps bizarre introduction to the world of municipal volunteering years ago.

As Chairman of our local Conservation Advisory Council I was asked by our elected Village Board to write the newly state mandated wetlands ordinance for our community. During the presentation to the public It was made to seem by the Board that the whole thing was my idea, they being the good guys and modifying some of the"harsher provisions". I was at one point villified by a citizen whose property was negatively affected as being new in town and not having any right to write such a law.

Do I sound a little thin skinned? Twenty five years ago I probably was, at least more so than now. But I wondered if a paid professional, hired by the Village Board would have been treated the same way. I also later wondered if I had somehow diminished the value of our profession, even in a small by giving away my services.

I suppose I would have to draw a line and classify pro bono professional work donated to non-profit groups, eg. low income housing orgaizations, in a different category.

Which brings me back to a reason people do volunteer for thses positions. Someone has to run the place. It might as well be me. I don't know if this is a great reason bust as often as not, its what I have heard many times over the years from municipal volunteers.

I hope all of you had a great summer.



i am a firm believer in voulunteering...but i limit my pro bono work to non-for-profits and i only take on so much when absolutely necessary. i have been in the position of volunteering in a professional field and often you are taken advantage of because you are free...there's no worry over cost...so i guess my feelings are mixed...but i would draw the line at volunteering in a spot that should really be handled by a paid professional.