7. Make Your Introductions Count
Open your meeting by introducing members of the commission and staff, and then explaining how the meeting will be conducted and when (and how) public comments will be allowed. These few minutes can go a long way towards reducing tensions at public hearings.
It's important to remember that for many members of the public, this may be their first time at a planning board meeting. Things that may seem matter-of-fact to you as a commissioner may seem mysterious or confusing to members of the public -- a problem compounded by the jargon and acronyms often used when discussing planning issues. The only remedy is to take the time to go over the basics at the start of the meeting.
Related to this, be sure to have plenty of copies of the agenda available, as well as handouts related to the applications under review, such as project summaries or staff recommendations. If possible, make these available in advance of the meeting, and post them online.
- Listen to how then Chair Gene McCoskey of the O'Fallon, Illinois Planning Commission starts off the evening's commission meeting. Recorded during my visit to O'Fallon in June 2007. Note: McCoskey now serves on the O'Fallon City Council.
- Agendas of the Huntington Beach, California, Planning Commission (see, for example, Sept. 25, 2012) include information that helps guide the public through the meeting process. Note also that planning commissioners are called on to disclose any ex parte contacts before the start of any public hearing -- see the "Public Hearing Procedures" near the end of the agenda. Plus the agenda is available online.
- The Knoxville/Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission does a terrific job in making their agendas and accompanying materials available in advance. Go to their Agenda Online web page, and then scroll down to the Agenda Package link -- each heading in the Agenda package takes you to more detailed project information. It's an excellent approach. The MPC holds public agenda review meetings a week in advance (see, for example, the Agenda for the Agenda Review meeting of (Oct. 9, 2012. Past agendas are also archived on their web page.
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