The Effective Planning Commissioner

On Commitment

May 6th, 2013

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How do we motivate commissioners to realize being on the planning commission requires a “commitment”? The more I thought about it, the more complex the answer seems to be.

First, we need to define the word commitment as it is generally understood. Unfortunately, most of the common dictionary definitions do not seem to fit situations that relate to planners or planning. The old standby reference, Roget’s Thesaurus, is not much more help. Most accepted sources, including Roget, define commitment as an act to pledge or engage. Without asking planning commissioners to signal their allegiance in an overt manner, can or should the word or concept apply in any way to them? The answer appears to be a qualified “yes.”

At the least, planning board members should favor or be committed to planning as an orderly and fair way to make land use decisions in their community. There can be strong differences about how that comes about, but the concept should be accepted by all. Alas, that is not always the case. Consider the situation of a developer member who makes it clear by his votes that jobs and economic development are where his commitments lie. Consistency with the comprehensive plan, environmental, and other constraints are of less or no importance to him. One may argue that as long as his “commitment” to courses of action that belie orderly planning is known and not the majority opinion, there is little harm in his presence on the board.

What about a “commitment” to social or health values? To not allowing housing or schools close to factories that produce chemicals or other toxic substances even though the town has high unemployment and the owner threatens to take a business that employs hundreds of people to a more “hospitable” community? Should the planning board take a firm stand tat makes its commitment to community well being clear, no matter the consequences? …

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Have other ideas on what “commitment” means for a planning commissioner? Share your thoughts on the PlannersWeb LinkedIN group page.

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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