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The Ethics of Bias

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The right to an unbiased decision is a fundamental tenet of American due process, and the violation of that principle does, in fact, raise serious ethical questions.

... As in most ethical considerations, there is great room for judgment. You should be asking yourself whether your personal values are such that you can fairly consider requests that come before you -- or whether your personal values might cause you to be prejudiced or emotional in your opinions.

Keep in mind that when considering applications or requests, you are operating within a prescribed set of procedures and standards, as set out in your state and local regulations. When someone appears before you, the question is not whether or not you "like" their proposal, but whether or not it complies with the regulations.

It is important to note a distinction, however, between those instances where you are establishing policy rather than administering existing policy. For example, the commissioner who doesn't believe in design review is certainly free to oppose the inclusion of design review in the city's procedures, or to initiate a change in procedures to remove design review. However, once design review procedures are in place, the commissioner should work within that system. ...

The right to an unbiased decision is a fundamental tenet of American due process, and the violation of that principle does, in fact, raise serious ethical questions.

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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