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This column focuses on a particular aspect of conflicts of interest: how mixing family and planning commission can create ethical problems.
Consider the following hypothetical scenarios: Your wife’s law firm represents an applicant. She has indicated to her law firm that she will have no involvement with this matter given your position on the planning commission. She is a partner in the firm. As a commissioner, what should you do?
Your cousin appears at a hearing to testify against a proposed development … As a commissioner, what should you do?
Your cousin appears at a hearing to testify against a proposed development. He owns a home nearby, and has concerns about the design and possible traffic impacts of this project. As a commissioner, what should you do?
There is a proposed major development that would be located between your house and the elementary school your daughter will attend next year. During the review of the project you would like to argue that a condition be attached requiring the developer to construct a sidewalk between the new development and the school so that schoolchildren can more safely walk to school. Since your daughter would benefit from this, is it unethical for you to advocate for this sidewalk?
Before addressing the scenarios individually let’s consider some basics. The underlying principle that must be protected is that everyone who appears before a planning commission -– applicants, opponents, or simply interested individuals -– has a right to unbiased decision-makers. The problem with conflicts of interest or other relationships that may bias a decision-maker is that they undermine the fundamental fairness of the process.
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C. Gregory Dale, FAICP, is a founding Principal with McBride Dale Clarion, the Cincinnati affiliate office of Clarion Associates. He has managed planning projects throughout the country, and is also a frequent speaker at planning and zoning workshops and conferences.
Between 1991 and 2009, Dale authored 31 articles for the Planning Commissioners Journal, including 21 for our Ethics & the Planning Commission series, and others on a variety of transportation and zoning topics. Dale is also a co-author of The Planning Commissioners Guide (American Planning Association, 2013).