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Although not mandated by code, most planning commissions would do themselves a huge favor if they invested the time to engage their local officials in planning. There are a variety of strategies a commission can use to enhance its working relationship with the governing body. Some of the more successful approaches include:
1. Planning Commission Annual Report. A report documenting planning commission activities, and providing an overview of local planning issues and challenges, should be prepared annually and shared with the governing body. In some localities the report also contains the commission’s work plan for the coming year. If possible, have the report hand delivered by the commission chair at a regular meeting of the governing body, perhaps with a short accompanying oral presentation.
2. Joint Work Sessions. It makes sense for the planning commission and the local governing body to meet at least once a year to discuss matters involving planning, land use, and community change management issues. A working dinner is a common approach. To avoid being haphazard and disjointed, an agenda should be developed and followed.
3. Joint Visioning Exercise. Another useful engagement strategy, especially if your locality is preparing or updating its comprehensive plan, is a joint visioning exercise. By including the governing body in the actual planning process, especially at an early stage, the commission can incorporate the governing body’s perspective and concerns. This will reduce the chances of being “blind-sided” by critical comments at the end of the process.
4. Governing Body Member Serving on the Commission. This strategy can produce exciting results. The first step involves a search of your enabling statutes to see if it’s permissible for a member of the local governing body to also serve, with voting rights, on the planning commission. If such an appointment can be made, strong consideration should be given to exercising this option. Our experience with this approach in Blacksburg has been quite positive, especially from the perspective of communication, mutual understanding, and respect.
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