Read an excerpt from this article below. You can download the full article by using the link at the end of the excerpt.
What are the contents of the typical information packet you receive for a planning commission meeting? You will likely find the agenda, minutes of the last meeting, and backup material about each item for discussion. The packet also may be thick and wordy, densely packed with planning and legal jargon and perhaps some hard-to-read maps or sketches. If you are referred to a website for further clarification, is this information presented in a way that aids understanding or does it confound the issues yet more?
Do you as a planning commissioner have all the tools you need to make informed decisions or do you too often lack a clear and consistent roadmap?
Fast forward to the meeting itself. How does staff present their reports? Do they go into minute detail, often reading from the material they have sent you? What do they tell the commission that is relevant to the issue at hand and what merely anecdotal that may not be pertinent to the decisions you have to make? Are slides and charts clear and concise? Do you have any help, such as a glossary, in navigating a sometimes arcane planning vocabulary? Do you as a planning commissioner have all the tools you need to make informed decisions or do you too often lack a clear and consistent roadmap?
If you sometimes feel overwhelmed by information or how it is presented, put yourself in the shoes of the hapless citizen applicant who often must wade through pages of a legalistic questionnaire simply to ask for permission to extend his driveway. A one page summary and an explanation of common planning terms and processes can do much to alleviate distress. This also can be used as a refresher sheet for the commissioners.
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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.