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And the Consensus Is …

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“Ms. Chairperson, I move that …”
“And I second it!”

How frequently does this happen at your planning commission meetings? You are in the middle of an informal discussion and someone on the board attempts to cut everything short by making a motion. This is quickly seconded by another eager beaver, and before you know it, you are forced to follow a formal discussion process. This simple act can stifle a free and open discussion, especially if someone is zealous about following prescribed rules of order.

Another way to reach decisions is by consensus, or general agreement. Knowing when to vote and when to rely on consensus can contribute substantially to the smooth running of your planning board. First, it is important to acknowledge that most, if not all, decisions on legal matters require a recorded vote. Some issues require a simple majority; others two-thirds or more. These procedures should be spelled out clearly and followed precisely.

Consensus implies that the group can come to general agreement without forcing individuals to take sides.

Many other issues, however, are best resolved without a vote. Voting can polarize people and create a winner/loser environment. Consensus implies that the group can come to general agreement without forcing individuals to take sides.

Is there a consensus-builder on your board? If you are the chair, do not assume you have to take that role if it is not a comfortable position for you. Your primary responsibility is keeping order and giving everyone a fair opportunity to speak. If you are not the chair but have that skill, do not hesitate to use it. The consensus-builder can be anyone on the board who has the patience, aptitude, and interest. …

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photo of Elaine CoganElaine 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.

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