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The Commissioner As Applicant

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What do you do when a fellow planning commissioner is appearing before your commission as an applicant?

This is not an unusual scenario. It is sound practice for a commission to have members representing a wide spectrum of the community. Thus, a number of planning and zoning commissions include members who work in the construction or development industry. However, this may mean that a commissioner who is a developer will have a project before the commission for review. How do you handle this situation?

First, the potential problem should be anticipated as part of the new member selection process. The likelihood of a conflict of this sort arising should be raised with applicants to the commission by whoever makes the appointment. If it is believed that a conflict may regularly occur, then that person should probably not be appointed to the commission.

Planning commissions should also have guidelines in place outlining what to do when a commissioner is an applicant, or represents an applicant.

Planning commissions should also have guidelines in place outlining what to do when a commissioner is an applicant, or represents an applicant. Such guidelines should provide that commissioners, if at all possible, avoid personally appearing before their own commission as applicants.

Commissioners should make every effort to designate a spokesperson (i.e., employee, consultant, etc.) to actually present the issue to the planning commission. Personal appearances by commissioner/applicants may indeed unfairly serve to sway the views of some members of the commission. Even if commission members can remain neutral, such appearances may still lead the public to believe that the process is unfairly biased. ...

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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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