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Imagine that your Commission has a member who regularly attends meetings unprepared. (For many of you, this may not be much of a stretch to imagine.) As a result, the member displays little depth of thought or discussion on matters before the Planning Commission. They appear dependent upon the staff and often give the impression that they are "rubber stamping" the position of staff, or they repeatedly ask questions that have no bearing on the application or which are addressed in the information provided.
Is there an ethical issue in this situation? Is there an ethical obligation to exercise independent and informed judgment?
The reason why Planning Commissions exist, and why they perform such an important function in the planning and zoning system, is that they serve as an objective and independent voice that is informed about long-range and comprehensive planning issues.
The answer to these questions lie in understanding the historic reason why Planning Commissions were created. The reason why Planning Commissions exist, and why they perform such an important function in the planning and zoning system, is that they serve as an objective and independent voice that is informed about long-range and comprehensive planning issues.
Planning Commissions take their place alongside elected officials and local governments administrative officials, each of which have their own unique perspective on planning issues.
Elected officials have many other demands on their time besides planning and zoning issues, and they are tied politically to special interests in the community in a way that Planning Commissions are not. This should not be viewed as criticism, but rather as a recognition that there is a place for an independent voice in the system, Planning Commissions are intended to be that independent citizen-based group that offer a unique perspective from other players in the planning and zoning system.
While Planning Commissions operate within this system, in order for the system to work they must exercise independent and informed judgment. That judgment may not always be heeded, but the Commission should always be viewed as being concerned about the overall public welfare and cognizant of long-range comprehensive planning issues.
With this in mind, what should an individual Commissioner do to prepare for a meeting, and what should they avoid? ...
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C. 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).