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Ex-Parte Contacts

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Remember that there is nothing more frustrating for the losing party than to have the impression that the other side prevailed through the use of “back door” politics.

Any contact that you have with a party involved, or potentially involved, in a matter before the planning commission outside of the public hearing process is known as an "ex-parte" contact.

Ex-parte contacts can present difficult ethical problems for planning commissioners. Most people tend to think of ex-parte contacts as referring to contacts that occur outside of the meeting. While that is generally true, the literal meaning of the term "ex parte" is "one-sided." This, of course, suggests that when you engage in an ex-parte contact, you are engaging in a one-sided discussion, without providing the other side an opportunity to respond and state their case. Critical elements of legal due process involve providing all parties an opportunity for a fair hearing, full disclosure of information that you are considering, and an opportunity to be heard.

Engaging in outside or ex-parte contacts can violate those due process requirements, and ought to be avoided. ...

Ex-parte private conversation. Illustration by Marc Hughes.
Illustration by Marc Hughes for PlannersWeb

Any substantive information or facts that you receive during the course of those contacts that relate to the matter at hand ought to be made a part of the public record so that it can be available for consideration or challenge by all interested parties. This can be done by way of a public statement by you at the commission meeting.

Remember that there is nothing more frustrating for the losing party than to have the impression that the other side prevailed through the use of "back door" politics. And nothing is more important to you as a planning commissioner than your credibility and integrity. ...

End of excerpt

photo of Greg DaleC. Gregory Dale, FAICP, is a founding Principal with McBride Dale Clarion, the Cincinnati affiliate office of Clarion Associates. He has managed planning projects throughout the country, and is also a frequent speaker at planning and zoning workshops and conferences.

Between 1991 and 2009, Dale authored 31 articles for the Planning Commissioners Journal, including 21 for our Ethics & the Planning Commission series, and others on a variety of transportation and zoning topics. Dale is also a co-author of The Planning Commissioners Guide (American Planning Association, 2013).

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