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… As chair, you should:
Be conversant with all the issues under discussion; but you need not be an expert in any. In fact, knowing too many technicalities may get in the way of encouraging laypeople to express themselves, which is the role you are expected to play.
Always show fairness and leave personal opinions behind, except when it is time to vote. If you must speak out, turn over the gavel to your vice chair. But if you do that too often, your ability to be an unbiased presiding officer will be questioned. Fairness also means you give everyone a chance to speak and deal quickly and decisively with those who try to dominate the discussion.
Disdain the trappings of power. The gavel is all you should need to keep order, and it should be used sparingly. Neither request, require nor countenance special consideration from staff or from anyone else.
Maintain the proper balance between formality and informality. Many people still like to be called by their last names, but first names are acceptable if you know them well or it is in your community’s style. …
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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.