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Why the first few minutes of your planning commission meeting are especially important.
"I see we're all here and we're already five minutes late, so let's get started. Ms. Planning Director, what's the first item on the agenda?"
Does this sound familiar? Too many planning commission meetings begin in a similar fashion. The chair gavels everyone to order and launches right into the topic at hand. From there on, it is full speed ahead. While it may seem to be a direct and efficient way to carry out your business, it is a disservice to the planning board, staff, and especially the public. As tedious and repetitive as it may seem to some, it is important to establish a context for each meeting.
Keep in mind that many citizens may be attending a planning commission meeting for the first time and are not sure what to expect. At each meeting, you are doing the public's business and should take the responsibility to set the scene appropriately. Commissioners and staff also benefit from taking a few minutes at the onset to make sure everything is in order. While the preliminaries are primarily the responsibility of the chair, members can do their part by encouraging the chair to set the right tone and participating when needed. These tips will help you start out on the right track.
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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.