The Effective Planning Commissioner

Problem Solving is an Art, not a Science

February 27th, 2014

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Effective planning commissioners are problem solvers.

There are many strictures on how to conduct a planning commission meeting. On the one hand is the old standby, Robert ’s Rules of Order, which can be more a hindrance than a help in its adherence to formal, some say often stifling, conduct; on the other are the administrative rules of your jurisdiction that include elected officials and those appointed such as yourselves.

In between are the ways of doing things that just seem to work, at least some of the time. The central challenge in determining their worthiness is to answer the question: what most helps the board come to closure on the problems it is expected to solve?

At least as important as rules and regulations are the attitudes and modes of operation of commission members in regard to dealing with important issues. Here are some factors to consider.

illustration of clock face with words "Manage Your Time"Time limits. Setting a reasonable schedule to consider items on the agenda can help you solve problems and proceed to closure in an orderly manner. A printed agenda (7-7:10, call to order; 7:10-7:30, director’s report; 7:30-8:00; commission discussion; comments from the public; etc) alerts everyone, including petitioners, to what is expected; helps the chair keep order and the commission to take care of its business.

Situations arise, of course, when you should be flexible about extending the allotted time, especially if more people from the public want to speak on a given subject than anticipated. On the other hand, some items may take a shorter time than expected. Editor’s Note: for more on how to use agenda effectively, see Elaine’s “First on the Agenda is the Agenda!

... the article continues with Elaine's observations on:

  • Monologue vs. dialogue
  • Debate or discussion
  • Consensus or vote
  • What is the problem?

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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.

Cogan’s 52-page booklet, Now that You’re on Board: How to Survive … and Thrive … as a Planning Commissioner is available to PlannersWeb members to download at no extra charge (sorry, but it is not currently available in print).

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