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Chairing the Planning Commission

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As chairperson … it is your goal to be fair to everyone — regardless of whether you agree or disagree with them.

Planning commissions come in all sizes. There are small ones and large ones and each seems to have its own set of bylaws and methods of operation. But they all have one thing in common. They all have a chairperson.

For some planning commissions the chairperson is elected by members of the commission for only a single term of one or two years; some allow additional terms; while others have a rotation system where every commissioner eventually becomes chairperson.

The first thing to remember as a planning commission member and potential chairperson is that being a wonderfully effective member does not mean you will make a wonderfully effective chairperson. This article addresses those who are less than confident about their abilities to chair meetings.

For most planning commissions the major responsibility of the chairperson is the conduct and control of each meeting. Sounds very simple until you throw into the mix that this requires working with not only your fellow planning commission members, but the general public, many of whom are there because they are: (1) totally in the dark about some project planned for their neighborhood, (2) mildly unhappy with what is being proposed, or (3) up in arms about what is going on. Then you throw into the mix the applicant and professionals — developers, lawyers, etc. — who have their own agenda as well. Conducting and controlling the meeting can be a challenge.

The most important thing to remember as chairperson is that it is your goal to be fair to everyone — regardless of whether you agree or disagree with them. Here are a few simple ideas to help with meeting that goal. For the usual, routine items on the agenda these will help, but won’t really come into play as life savers for the chairperson until the “hot” topics show up.

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