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The background of potential members is an important factor in the selection process. But to what extent should the past involvement of potential commissioners in “special interest” groups pose a problem?
One of the challenges in the long-term health of a planning commission is the appointment of commission members who are best able to serve the public interest.
Naturally, the background of potential members is an important factor in the selection process. But to what extent should the past involvement of potential commissioners in “special interest” groups pose a problem?
Consider the following scenario. Your city council is in the process of appointing two new commissioners. The mayor and council have developed a list of potential candidates. Among them, a developer who has been an officer in the local home-builders association, and an environmentalist who has been active in a local “save open space” organization. Each has appeared before the planning commission in the past.
The mayor and council are soliciting advice as to the most appropriate candidates. You question the wisdom of appointing those who have been active in special interest groups dealing with planning and zoning issues. You are concerned about future conflicts of interest and also troubled by having “special interest advocates” serve on the planning board.
Are there good reasons for your concerns? Should communities avoid appointing individuals who have been involved with special interest groups?
There are several broad issues raised by these questions:
- Should the planning commission reflect the prevailing values of the community?
- What is the community, through its governing body, trying to achieve in the way it structures its planning commission?
- What message is being sent to the public?
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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).