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If your planning commission truly makes decisions that affect the well-being of the entire community, it makes sense that its membership reflects that community. In most cases, women not welcome in the past have broken the gender barrier, but the middle/upper class, all-white racial makeup of planning boards is still too prevalent. This is characterized by the obvious lack of the handicapped, young people, Latinos, Asians and other minorities and, in keeping with today’s social mores … those who are admittedly gay, lesbian, or transgender.
These omissions shortchange the board’s ability to represent all your constituents. Multiple perspectives open up the possibilities of planning for and with people who may otherwise feel disenfranchised or ignored. They also can help create a more vibrant and inclusive community.
The suggestions below assume commission members are aware of the advantages of a diverse membership and have an influence on appointments to the board. Some of you are consulted by the mayor or appointing authority; others use more informal networks to recommend people to fill vacancies. If a written application is required, review the forms so that they are easy to understand and make sure they are available at your commission meetings, neighborhood gatherings, and other public places. Whatever works in your community, everyone will benefit if you use your influence to help diversify the board.
Many planning boards set aside positions for business, professional, and other known interests. Look outside your accustomed networks when filling these slots. Ask local organizations to recommend minority accountants, attorneys, educators, and other professionals; drive down Main Street or walk through the mall to seek out likely candidates among shopkeepers or other small business owners. … to read rest of article you must be a PlannersWeb member; please log-in.
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.
Cogan’s 52-page booklet, Now that You’re on Board: How to Survive … and Thrive … as a Planning Commissioner is available to PlannersWeb members to download at no extra charge (sorry, but it is not currently available in print).