Welcome to the Commission

July 15th, 2000
Article #234

Read excerpt from article (by one of the six commissioners featured, Ann McReynolds of Webster Groves, Missouri):

Before you agree to serve on the planning commission in your community, you should be sure you have both the desire and time to attend commission meetings. Your time commitment also involves becoming thoroughly knowledgeable about your community's zoning code, in addition to reviewing petitions (for proposed new development, rezoning issues, etc.) prior to the meetings.

You may also need to spend time acquiring some practical knowledge, such as the basics of reading surveys and site plans; familiarity with real estate and planning jargon; an understanding of property rights; and some historical perspective on your community.

No matter how well you prepare intellectually for your role as commissioner, there is one simple fact you will learn and never forget: most people do not like change.

However, no matter how well you prepare intellectually for your role as commissioner, there is one simple fact you will learn and never forget: most people do not like change. It doesn't really matter if they represent the fifth generation of their family to live in your town, or if they have just finished unpacking from a cross-country move. Be prepared! Comments and opinions will be passionately delivered, even if they're not always logical.

Furthermore, you cannot always predict what kind of reaction a petition will arouse. What may seem like an innocuous request can trigger the most outraged objections by neighbors … and by some who live on the other side of town from the proposed change! They will write you letters and leave messages on your answering machine if you're not at home, hoping to make you aware of their personal loss if this petition is approved. Then too, you may receive calls and letters from members of the local economic development board, trying to sway you in favor of attracting a new development to enhance the tax base.

Be strong! Although knowledge, experience, and willingness to learn are important skills for a commissioner to have, they are less important than the personal skills you will need to rely on during all but the most perfunctory of meetings:

  • patience to listen calmly to drawn out, repetitive, and angry comments by concerned citizens.
  • self-confidence to speak out and ask those hard questions that need to be asked.
  • willingness to ask for guidance from the staff planning officials and legal counsel.
  • objectivity, in order to separate objectionable personalities from their otherwise reasonable claims.
  • courage to make wise decisions for the betterment of your entire community.

And one last thought ... don't lose your sense of humor, for it may be your best ally for getting through a difficult evening.

End of excerpt

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