11. Stay Cool: Recesses, Continuances, and Multi-Session Hearings
Don't be afraid to take a short recess during your meeting. Staff may be able to quickly resolve a question that has come up, or you may get an opinion from your legal counsel on an important point.
Continuing a hearing to your next meeting can also allow for a cool-off period, or give the applicant a chance to respond to suggestions from commissioners and the public.
With complex hearings it sometimes makes sense to divide the hearing into two sessions, rather than hear from the staff, applicant, supporters, and opponents, and have questions and discussions from commissioners, at a single meeting. If this is planned and announced in advance, it can also lower the heat at the initial session, as everyone knows that no immediate action will be taken.
But as a planning commissioner, remember to "stay cool" -- regardless the situation.
- New Mexico Open Meetings Compliance Guide (Attorney General's Office): "A public body may recess and reconvene a meeting to a day subsequent to that stated in the meeting notice if, prior to recessing, the public body specifies the date, time and place for continuation of the meeting, and, immediately following the recessed meeting, posts notice of the date, time and place for the reconvened meeting ..." (page 16 of Guide)
- Lake County, Florida, Land Development Regulations (Section 14.00.06): "Postponement of Application. An application scheduled for public hearing may be postponed as follows:
1. An Applicant may request one (1) continuance of the scheduled public hearing provided such request is filed with the County Manager, or designee, at least ten (10) days prior to the scheduled hearing. The County Manager or designee may grant the request. ...
2. The board may continue a public hearing when it is deemed necessary to acquire additional information, public testimony, or time in order to render a determination. It is the intent of the board that continuances be limited to no more than one (1) so as to not unduly inconvenience the public. However, the board may grant additional continuances for good cause based on extenuating circumstances."
- Note: many states have open meeting / sunshine law manuals that address the use of recesses & continuances and other aspects of public meetings and hearings. They are often prepared by the Attorney General or Secretary of State's office. We recommend that you double-check your own state's requirements for guidance.
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