12. Show Respect
The single most important factor in “lowering the temperature” of public hearings is the model set by the Chair and members of the commission. If planning commissioners remain respectful of each other, of the applicant, of the public, and of staff, the odds of having a fruitful public hearing will be significantly improved.
Being respectful includes obvious, but too often forgotten, points like: arriving on time; not engaging in side conversations during the hearing; being polite to members of the public; and staying awake and attentive throughout the hearing!
It can be hard for commissioners to maintain their composure in the face of verbal assaults from members of the public. In fact, the commission — through its Chair — has an obligation to maintain decorum in the hearing room. This includes cautioning the public against cheering or jeering. But this doesn’t negate the need for commissioners to control their temper and show respect.
As long-time public involvement consultant Elaine Cogan has noted:
“It is important that you show respect to the questioner even when you doubt the question. People ask stupid questions … hostile ones … tough ones … all of which you and your colleagues should answer as well as you can, but always respectfully. Sometimes, you and a citizen will have to ‘agree to disagree,’ but you should never show anger or lose your temper.” — from Now that You’re Onboard (p. 4).
The late Fred Riggins, former Chair fo the Phoenix Planning Commission, reminded us that planning commission hearings often are:
“… the first important contact that many of the people in the audience have had with the administration of their city and for some this is the most important matter in which they have ever been involved. Many will never be back again and many will never have another such contact and experience. Your performance will create in their minds the picture which they will always carry with them of ‘the way the city is run.’ Make it as pleasant and comforting a picture as possible.”
- From City of Nichols Hills, Oklahoma, Planning Commission “Rules of Decorum” for Meetings: “Whereas, it is declared to be the policy of the Planning Commission to encourage citizen participation during Planning Commission meetings in an environment of mutual respect and civility which allows the thoughtful consideration of varied points of view by the members of the Planning Commission. …”
- Elaine Cogan, “Meaningful Dialogue With the Public” (Planning Comm’rs Journal #73).
- Fred Riggins, “The Riggins Rules” (Planning Comm’rs Journal #13)
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