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The Effective Planning Commissioner

Consider the Committee

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Committees can get in the way, or even do harm to your planning process -- or be very useful in advancing the work of an over-burdened and over-worked planning board.

It is said that the camel was designed by committee. That is certainly not a ringing endorsement of what a small group can do, but the metaphor may be appropriate. Committees can get in the way, or even do harm to your planning process -- or be very useful in advancing the work of an over-burdened and over-worked planning board.

The focus of this column is on ad hoc or special purpose committees formed to deal with a particular issue, such as a housing dispute or an internal board matter, rather than standing committees that are part of municipal government or part of the planning board's permanent structure (such as executive or ordinance committees).

Purpose. Does this sound familiar: The planning board is at an impasse, having spent an unusual amount of time on one issue without reaching a conclusion. Though you realize this is an important matter, you also are frustrated because your ordinary work is piling up. Moreover, citizens are beginning to complain of your inaction to the mayor and your local newspaper. This is the ideal time to appoint a committee! But it will be successful only with the "right" people and a clear focus and mission.

Composition. You have some choices: you can choose a committee composed only of planning commissioners (in effect a subcommittee of the board); or a committee comprised only of citizens; or one combining planning commissioners and citizens. Though there is no right way, the number and kind of people should be the best configuration to carry out the committee's mission.

Cartoon sketch of committee brainstorming meeting.

The first choice works best when a few members have the trust of the full board and the subject is internal to the board. For matters that affect the community, a combination of planning board members and citizens is usually desirable. In certain circumstances, however, it may be important to maintain a "hands off" approach by appointing a committee comprised only of citizens (though in that case, care needs to be taken to make sure there is representation from all sides of the issue). ...

End of excerpt ... article continues with short sections on: Leadership; Staff assistance; Schedule/deadlines; Reporting system; Wrapping up; and Evaluation.

photo of Elaine CoganElaine Cogan, founding principal of the Portland, Oregon planning and communications firm of Cogan Owens Cogan, has consulted for more than 36 years with communities undertaking strategic planning and visioning processes. Cogan has been honored for her work on a variety of citizen involvement projects.

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