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The Effective Planning Commissioner

Who Hires Your Planning Director?

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Neighborhood activists wanted to hire someone sympathetic to their concerns. Businesspeople desired someone grounded in "practical" realities. The planning commission looked for a visionary.

What attributes should you look for in a new planning director or include in the evaluation of your current one? I recently facilitated a series of community forums in Portland, Oregon to give a broad range of citizens a chance to recommend the traits the mayor should consider when hiring for this key position. ...

There was general consensus that the ideal planning director be able to understand and articulate the aims and aspirations of the many different aspects of the community. He or she should be willing to reach beyond traditional interest groups and be a good listener and communicator.

Come In - We're Hiring signThe individual should have sufficient understanding of planning and planning issues to articulate them well and champion them to others. Interestingly, in Portland, only the planners insisted that their new planning director must be a professional planner. Others had different priorities. The architects, for example, said that the individual should have a strong interest in design. Neighborhood activists wanted to hire someone sympathetic to their concerns. Businesspeople desired someone grounded in "practical" realities. The planning commission looked for a visionary.

Obviously, the size of your planning department is a consideration when any criteria are considered. It is more important that a one-person or small office have a professional planner in charge than in a larger community where the generalist can head the department and oversee the technical planners.

Another attribute suggested by Portland citizens is that the planning director be able to work well within the political structure of the community as well as with the planning board members. ...

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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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