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At your next planning commission meeting, look around at the other members. Do most or all generally resemble yourself in at least some of these qualities -- gender, ethnicity, age, business or profession, income level? It may give you and the others a sense of comfort to fit a certain predictable pattern, but ask yourselves honestly if this is the best way to represent all the interests in your community. If you are planning for all, shouldn't you make every effort to represent all on the commission?
The best way to do this is to scrutinize the way you recruit new members. In many, especially smaller communities, this often is by word of mouth, tapping friends or people who are acknowledged leaders on other boards, the Chamber of Commerce, or similar business or philanthropic groups. They are likely to serve well, while looking and sounding like the people they replace. Earnestly seeking out others takes time and effort.
Some communities put small ads in the newspaper. If you advertise in this way, avoid dry, legal sounding announcements, and make the position enticing. Adding some humor can also be effective.
WANTED: VOLUNTEERS FOR EXCITING AND DYNAMIC POSITION ON OUR PLANNING COMMISSION; LONG HOURS; NO PAY; BUT GREAT REWARDS IN KNOWING YOU ARE CONTRIBUTING TO A BETTER FUTURE FOR ALL OF US. CALL OR WRITE ...
If you agree on an ad, placement is most important. Local, general circulation newspapers may not be the best venue to attract the diversity you seek. Choose newspapers or radio stations that serve ethnic or under-represented communities, and write the ads in other languages if needed. Consider supplementing these ads with announcements on your community's web page or other online sites.
It also is important to contact community organizations -- including church groups -- to tell them of vacancies on the planning board and encourage applications. Retirees often have the time and the background to be excellent commission members. Be sure to seek out leaders of neighborhood groups who have shown particular interest in planning issues.
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Elaine 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.