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Recently, I was asked by a group of planning board members from different parts of the country to name the three most important attributes of a commissioner. We had been talking about the need to understand planning terms; to be neutral and fair; to pay attention at meetings; and other such important matters. But when pressed to name the three most important aspects of their jobs, I surprised at least some of them by answering, “patience, persistence, and passion.”
Patience is an essential attribute if you are to be an effective decision maker, especially in the contentious situations that often confront the planning board. You need to exercise patience over your own desire to rush to judgment after a cursory review of the “facts” as they are presented by staff or an applicant, or seem to be borne out by your own experience. You also need to be patient with other board members who may have a different perspective or be slower to grasp complicated concepts.
Most importantly, you must be patient with the public at that inevitable public hearing or meeting. Though citizens often care deeply about a subject, they may become excited and emotional or express themselves in less than perfect grammar or syntax. This is not to excuse rude or disruptive behavior, which must, of course, be controlled. However, do not exhibit your impatience. Tapping a pencil on the desk, whispering to a neighbor, interrupting or answering rudely are common habits that should be avoided. Each citizen deserves to be heard with patience, no matter how misguided you may think they are.
Have patience with the planning process, and with the citizens to whom it is important, and you may be surprised how often the quality of your final product is improved. …
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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.