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The first step in opening up the commission to new people is to make a list of all the interests in your community. Be inclusive and creative, looking beyond the obvious. You should take every opportunity to seek out people from the constituencies you have listed. Do not be satisfied with posting a job description in the local newspaper. Be proactive. Contact the radio and print media that communicate with under-represented constituencies; send notices to the newsletters of their clubs and organizations; follow up with letters and phone calls. Seek out leaders who may be willing to be on the planning commission themselves or can recommend likely candidates.
While reaching out broadly, you may need to be sensitive to time commitments and other special needs. For example, you may have to consider altering your meeting times to accommodate hourly workers or people with young children at home. Do not expect everyone you consider to have in-depth knowledge of planning issues, but favor those who are willing to commit the time to learn.
After you experience the value a diversity of interests can bring to planning issues … the points of view they espouse you may not have been aware … the benefits of being able to show citizens that the faces on your planning board are as heterogeneous as your community … you will find that the results are worth the extra effort.
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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.