Hot Management Info for 2008

January – Boring Meetings For The New Year
February – The Top 14 Mistakes Managers Make
March – It’s Called Work For A Reason
April – Dead-People Working Syndrome
May – Leadership
June – Don’t Send Your Ducks to Eagle School
July – How To Say “Sorry”
August – Employee Discontent
September – Mavericks At Work
October – Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
November – The Planning Commission’s Boring TV Show
December – How Government Clients Drive Consultants (Me) Crazy!

January 2008 – Boring Meetings For The New Year

Have you made your New Year’s resolution yet to stop going to those boring meetings or if you are in charge, stop having them?

Typical Planning Department meetings go like this:

  • They are set for one hour and take an hour, even if not needed.
  • The director may pontificate for 55 minutes and then ask for all those creative ideas from staff; but at this time you just want to get the h___ out of there.
  • Or, everyone shows up, sits down, and takes his or her turn in reporting progress on assigned projects. But, much of this could be done through status reports, emails, intranets, or old-fashioned paper.

Why not instead spend more time on problem solving! Solving problems generates more positive energy than status reporting does.1 So:

  1. Shift the agendas from focusing on performance accolades to sharing and solving problems.
  2. Challenge those who “don’t have problems.” Are they holding their cards too close to the best?
  3. Notice the level of defensiveness in the culture. Can they disclose issues easily? Can they take feedback without becoming upset?
  4. Lead by example, surface your problems first! This may be difficult at first, but it will show that you are serious. It allows you to start challenging the group by asking questions like: “Even though we are performing well, what’s not working or can be improved in your division?”

1 Extracted from Executivematters, AMA, September 2007 by Don Schmincke:

Reader Response

Your boring meetings missive struck my funny bone.

A long time ago when I was a planning manager, my boss, the community development director loved to have meetings. He would schedule a meeting and want both the chief building official and myself to attend. Sometimes, without checking with anyone, he’d add one or two planners and plan checkers and have his secretary invite five or six other department heads. The meeting memo (this is before e-mail) would list the topic as something vague like, “Development Issues” or “Infrastructure.” There was no agenda.

So there would be three to six department personnel with no idea of what’s going to be discussed sitting at a table as other department heads rolled in. The boss would just ramble on about issues that could easily have been handled by one or two people in a phone call.

One time, I overheard him tell his secretary to, “Set up a meeting for next Tuesday. Get (Public Works, Fire Department, Emergency Services, Environmental Health, Recreation) to come to the meeting, and be sure to have (Senior Planner and Senior Plan Checker).”

She asked him, “What should I tell them the meeting is about?”

He replied, “Oh, I don’t know, tell them ‘Redevelopment.'”

At that point I told my staff, no written agenda, no meeting attendance. They were actually thrilled. Apparently this had been going on ever since he had been promoted. When I finally asked him why so many people when we couldn’t take a position or make a decision if he was in the meeting. He said, (I’ll never forget this) “I want them to know how important this department is.”

After the planning staff stopped coming to meetings, the number of ‘no shows’ increased steadily from other departments too. Public Works got to the point of sending just a secretary to take notes.

Anonymous (because he’s still a Director in the same city after 25 years; and although his management style was frustrating, he is a really nice guy)

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February 2008 – The Top 14 Mistakes Managers Make (and how they apply to you)1

  1. You’re not listening
    The article suggest that this may actually be number one. I see this over and over again with managers. We love to stroke our egos and show how smart we are. Sit down and shut up. On the other hand, there are cases where the manager needs to speak up and provide the leadership.
  1. Indulging in over commitment
    Do you even know how many applications you can handle with your current staff without getting behind or overloaded? Do you have a plan to handle peak workloads? In long-range planning and special programs, do you have a detailed work program with labor allocations and deadlines? I seldom see this in planning departments.
  1. Blinded by the numbers
    Interestingly, this is not an issue I see in most planning departments. It is exactly the opposite. The managers don’t understand that some numbers must be an integral part of managing.
  1. Allowing fuzzy commitments and avoidance of commitment
    At the political level, say what you plan or can do and then do it. For your staff, set some timelines and performance standards.
  1. The customer comes last
    Have you analyzed all of your customer types and developed a strategy for each? If not, the customer is likely coming last.
  1. Fear and loathing of performance evaluation
    Most of the government performance evaluations I see are terrible and managers hate to do them. However, you don’t do a poor performer a favor by not addressing the problems. Many private sector companies do an evaluation every three months. I like this idea, give it a try.
  1. Teams in name only
    Teams are getting a bad name in much of the literature. However, in today’s complex world they are often essential. Make certain the team is clear on the mission and approves of it. Have a good leader.
  1. The management toolbox is empty
    If you only have a hammer, everything will look like a nail. How many self-improvement and management books did you read last year? If you are like most, perhaps one. A target of four or five would be more reasonable.
  1. Giving orders instead of requesting and establishing commitment
    The boss with the whip should be long gone. Your employees often know more than you do. Learn how to empower and lead employees.
  1. Inability to build trust/cope with distrust
    Get a clear mission, train employees, empower them and get off their back. The trust will be a by product.
  1. No clear game plan
    See 2 and 5 above. What is your strategy?
  1. Because I said so
    See 9 above.
  1. Lack of commitment to learning
    Learning starts with you and also with the departments training program. How about starting an office book club?
  1. Allowing cynicism about management
    Cynicism about management is not something you can control. But, why are employees cynical? They don’t see the value added from managers who violate the first 13 items above. So, stop making these mistakes and cynicism will disappear.

1 The 14 ideas come from Training Magazine, Febrary 2003

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March 2008 – It’s Called Work For A Reason1

Larry Winget’s new book is both entertaining, easy to read and right on – at least most of the time. I’ll tell you about it in a minute. But first, why is the topic so on my mind today?

Several of my recent clients have had similar problems:

  1. The Planning Director has one or more subordinate managers who are not with the program.
  2. Staff at various locations in the organization are not getting the job done.

In both cases the organization’s solution is the same, “we can’t fire them so we put up with it.” I’m not convinced.

  • As Jim Collins says in his best selling book, Good to Great, your job is to get the wrong people off the bus.
  • As I have been saying for years, you don’t do a service to poor performers by not working with them to address the problem or by not helping them find a place more suited for their talents.

I see three solutions:

  1. Get smart and figure out how to take action within your community’s personnel system.
  2. Move them aside – put them in the closet. (I was recruited once by a large city as assistant director. During the interview I discovered they already had an assistant director. What did the other one do? Nothing. They decided they couldn’t fire him so they put him in a “closet.”) Make them a special project manager. Assign their management tasks to a young up and coming planner who can get the job done.
  3. Put up with it. In the long run, this not only drags down the organization but can also be at your own peril.

Here are a few words of wisdom from Winget:

  • What is work? Being productive. Getting results.
  • We focus on process instead of accomplishment. You are paid for results. It’s not what you do; it’s what you get done.
  • Change your To-Do List to “Things That Have to Get Done”
  • If an employee can’t figure out how to get her job done in the number of hours she is paid to work, it probably means she is goofing off when she is supposed to be working.
  • Companies spend more time disciplining a poor employee for doing the job wrong than they do teaching the employee to do it right.
  • Businesses get better only when the people in the business get better.
  • Employees get better right after their manager gets better.
  • There is nothing sadder than to find out an employee is excellent at doing something that doesn’t need to be done at all.
  • When it quits being fun – quit!. But don’t quit without something else lined up. No reason to be stupid about it!
  • What are you doing on your own time to become better at what you do?
  • You represent your coworkers and should speak well of them in front of the customer even when they have been idiots and screwed things up.

Companies and organizations have reputations too. Some are known for speed: FedEx. Some for quality: Mercedes-Benz. Some for customer service: Nordstrom. Some for being cool: Apple. Some for being slow: the post office. Some for being idiots: the government.

Some for ______________: the planning department.

1Winget, Larry, It’s Called Work for a Reason, Gotham Books, 2008

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April 2008 – Dead-People Working Syndrome1

How many of you know dead people working? A variety of recent surveys show that approximately 75% of the workforce is either not engaged or actively disengaged in their work. But, boredom, despair, and indifference – symptoms of dead-people working – are the result of the choices people have made.

“You can be dead-people working or you can be a mover and shaker. It’s a matter of the passion and energy you bring to work each day and the small pockets of success you create wherever you go. Movers and shakers are exactly the opposite of dead-people working; they are fully present and thoroughly engaged in what they are doing. They don’t let unfortunate circumstances or limitations drag them down, and they don’t let negative people influence how they are going to act.”

The freedom to choose may be the most powerful attribute and precious resource you have in your life. It is a state of mind. It grows from the inside out. It shapes who you become, how you express yourself, the success you achieve, and the influence you have in the world.

Typical gripes:

  • My boss never lets me express my individuality.
  • Senior leadership pays lip service to these innovations, yet we are expected to embrace them.
  • Our board (Planning Commission, City Council, County Commissioners) is too conservative; without taking risks we can’t be innovative.
  • The culture sucks! People live in fear around here.
  • We need a leader with vision. Things are out of control; we have no focus.

Is it really the above that restricts your ability to choose? Or is it you?

“The point is, in every case, you choose to let circumstances control your behavior and performance. Not choosing is itself a choice. When you abdicate or abandon this most basic of freedoms, you imprison yourself. You choose to become helpless, powerless, mindless, less influential, and less happy. You’ve benched yourself in your own game of life! Accountable, fully engaged, movers and shakers are players. They step up to the plate with passion, swing with everything they’ve got, and aim for ‘out of the park’!”


1Taken from MWORLD, Spring 2008 article by Drs. Kevin and Jackie Freiberg.

Reader Response

Here’s some more wisdom on Dead People Working Syndrome. I liked your article very much; I believe you should preserve it.

Here’s a quote on “work’ by Studs Terkel who wrote a book on the subject.

“Work is about a daily search for meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash — for a sort of life, rather than a Monday-to-Friday sort of dying.”

For your own research files, three items I think you’ll find interesting: (click on the item to read it)

  • Item #1 — a newspaper column from Financial Times by Lucy Kellaway.
  • Item #2 — a few responses from Kellaway’s readers.
  • Item #3 — a note written by Robert Morrison about his Harvard Business Review article of March 6, 2006, “Managing Middlescents.”

By the way — I turned 88 years old in February.

John P. Morgan

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May 2008 – Leadership

I just returned from the Las Vegas APA National Planning Conference and the term “Leadership” kept popping up. I believe one of the best sessions at the entire conference was called Leadership. It was number (S473) and worth your ordering the tape. This session was sponsored by the Fellows and featured five outstanding FAICP members. The theme was:

The leadership skills required to successfully advocate for ideas that may be ethically and professionally right, but politically unpopular – and still remain effective.

Steven A. Preston, City of San Gabriel, CA, led an interactive discussion with: Connie Cooper, Cooper Consulting Company, Inc, Dallas; Elaine S. Costello, City of Mountain View, Calif.; Norman Krumholz, Cleveland State Univ.; and Roger S. Waldon, Clarion Associates.

What struck me is how difficult it is to define leadership and the different approaches all five speakers took; yet all five have been outstanding leaders. Suggestions included:

  • Focus on social justice
  • Have negotiation skills
  • Don’t be an advocate but support the process
  • Be a teacher
  • Listen more, talk less
  • Find common ground
  • Manage yourself
  • Lead people above you by coaching, one step at a time
  • Disappoint people at a rate they can absorb
  • It’s not what you say; it’s how you make people feel

I like most of these ideas but I believe planners need to be advocates but operate in a way where it is not so obvious. I was never fired for advocating the big idea. It was always related to what I now recognize as inter-personal skills. I always gave my elected official the feeling that I was smarter than they were. In many cases I was, but that missed the point. It’s not what you say; it’s how you make people feel.

They also made it clear, that to be a good Planning Director leader you need to know when to draw the line that may lead to being fired. That’s one problem I never had.

Keep leading!


Reader Response

Thank you for addressing this critical topic! I attended the “Leadership” session at APA Las Vegas and found it to be excellent and very thought-provoking. I also enjoyed your comments at the session on “How Bad Leaders Spoil Good Planning.” I agree wholheartedly about the importance of interpersonal skills in this area. To me, leaders have to have courage, and vision, and the tact and sensitivity to positively influence others.


Brian Litt

Columbia River Gorge Commission

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June 2008 – Don’t Send Your Ducks to Eagle School

If you are still confused about leadership, try John C. Maxwell’s new book, Leadership Gold. He also wrote another good book, The 360-Degree Leader. I particularly liked his comments on “Ducks” summarized below:

    1. If you send ducks to eagle school, you will frustrate the ducks.
      Leadership is all about placing people in the right place so they can be successful. As a leader, you need to know and value your people for who they are and let them work according to their strengths. There’s nothing wrong with ducks. Just don’t ask them to soar or hunt from a high altitude. It’s not what they do.

      Note: This is the same idea as Collins’ concept of getting your people in the right seats on the bus.

    2. If you send ducks to eagle school, you will frustrate the eagles.
      Eagles don’t want to live in a barnyard or swim in a pond. People who are used to moving fast and flying high are easily frustrated by people who want to hold them back.
    3. If you send ducks to eagle school, you will frustrate yourself.
      As a leader, your job is to help your ducks become better ducks and your eagles better eagles-to put individuals in their right places and help them reach their potential. You shouldn’t ask people to grow in areas where they have no natural talent. Natural ability is not a choice. It’s a gift.

Good hunting,
The Management Doctor

p.s. Eagles, don’t flock, you have to find them one eagle at a time.

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July 2008 – How To Say “Sorry”

Management theory says that we learn by making mistakes and in my consulting practice I see cities and counties making plenty of them. Here are the suggestions from the July 4-11, 2008 The Week magazine.

Act fast. As soon as you realize you’re at fault, step forward to say so. Otherwise, before you know it, you’re apologizing for the tardiness of the apology. 
Face your mistakes. If you’re feeling guilty, the least you can do is say so in person. Apologizing face-to-face rather than through email shows sincerity. But if confrontation really frightens you, putting an apology on paper lends more weight. 
Choose your words carefully. Make it clear you know that you screwed up. Avoid halfhearted apologies like “My bad” or “I’m sorry you’re upset.” But be sure to use the first person as in “I made a mistake.” The injured party wants to see you suffer — at least a little. 
Make a gesture. When sorry isn’t enough, give the person you’ve wronged something thoughtful. Sometimes just flowers or wine are enough. 
As a government you may have trouble with the flowers or wine but, when the counter wait is too long, Redwood City, California sends customers to the coffee house next door for a free coffee. Columbus, Ohio adopted a policy that was never implemented that would have given a credit or rebate of five percent of the applicable fee for each day beyond the set service standard it took to process the application. The Ohio State Conservation Director for a time said that if the department missed the set deadline the Director would call a press conference and personally give the applicant the fee back. The staff member who didn’t get the work done on time would also be at the press conference.

All right emailers, a few of you should have creative ideas of your own we can share with our readers. I would like to hear from you.

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August 2008 – Employee Discontent 

Do you have some discontented employees? Try some of the ideas below. 
Warning Signs One Thing You Can Do
Rarely participate in meetings Rotate meeting leadership so that every employee has the opportunity to run a meeting.
Show a lack of creativity or innovation Designate a specific time to brainstorm and discuss new ideas.
Start to form cliques Arrange departmental get-togethers to help employees become better acquainted.
Rush out the door at closing time Recognize people who have stayed late or put out extra effort to complete a project or achieve a goal.
Seldom smile or laugh Cultivate an atmosphere of fun in the workplace with a joke board where people can post cartoons and funny stories. Or assign a different person each week to bring in a cartoon or joke to the staff meeting.
Won’t share their personal lives Set the example by talking about your own life outside of work – what you did over the weekend, special hobbies, etc.
Stay away from the manager Ask yourself what you’re doing to discourage communication: Do you become angry when you hear about mistakes? Do you frequently use sarcasm?

Adapted from Customer Service & Retention

A few other ideas:

  1. Try some new assignments
  2. Empower more – give more control
  3. More training
  4. Start an office book club
  5. Share your ideas with the Management Doctor readers

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September 2008 – Mavericks At Work

If you haven’t read this book, rush out today and get a copy.* I don’t know how I missed this when it came out in 2006 but the paperback was just released and a friend referred it to me. Here is a money back guarantee: If you don’t like it, send me your copy and I’ll buy it and give it away at my next seminar.

What you will find here:

  1. How to get the best brains in the world working on your problem, not just your star performers. (The strong take from the weak, but the smart take from the strong.) This is called, “open- source innovation.”
  2. The need for getting a clear mission. More importantly how to do it and why it is so important. At the heart of every great company is a clear sense of purpose.
  3. Again, why you need to get the right employees and managers to work for you and how to do it.
  4. Here are some good one liners for you:
    • The best way to predict the future is to invent it. (What a great thought for planners)
    • How you talk about your company speaks volumes about how you think about your business. And ultimately, how you think about your business determines how well it performs. What you think shapes how you talk.
    • Did today really matter?
    • All employees can say “yes” to a customer, but must first check with their supervisor before saying “no.”
    • Why settle for being the smartest guy in the room when it’s so clear, in so many different settings, that nobody is as smart as everybody? The more smart people you can persuade to work on a problem, the more likely it is to get solved. Anytime you start a new project, anytime you size up a new technical problem, you ought to look outside your walls before you reinvent the wheel.
    • You cannot motivate the best people with money. Money is just a way to keep score. The best people in any field are motivated by passion.
    • You need to walk in stupid every day.
    • In this new world, the most transparent leader is the most attractive leader.
    • Open the office 15 minutes before and close 15 minutes after posted hours, a small way to exceed expectations.
    • Keep the caller on the phone until you get the right person on the line with you and say, “Joanne, I have Jim on the line, and here’s what he needs help with,” and only then do you click off.
    • We could build our stores (offices) for half of what we spend, but that would be a mistake. Even if our customers didn’t notice, our employees would notice, and that would create a culture of cutting corners.
    • You cannot have happy, satisfied customers if your organization is filled with unhappy, dissatisfied people.
    • Victory comes to companies, not through the employment of brilliant men, but through knowing how to get the most out of ordinary folks.
    • The gap between what a highly productive person can do and what an average person can do is getting bigger and bigger.
    • Who you are beats what you know.
    • Good is not good enough. (emphasize this for government) The Rule of Crappy People: There are good people and there are great people. Great people tend to hire other great people, because that’s who they want to work with. But good people tend to hire people who aren’t so good. They don’t want to manage people who are smarter than they are. So over time, the talent level in the company declines to the lowest common denominator, and you wind up with lots of crappy people. It’s a disaster.
    • Stars don’t work for idiots.
  5. An added bonus: A few years ago I took part of my retirement account away from my financial advisor to invest only in companies like the ones in this book. So far I am slightly outperforming my advisor but with no fees. This book gave me a couple more companies to add to my list. I won’t tell you who they are, you will have to read the book and I want to make my stock purchase before you get there.

The Management Doctor

* Mavericks at Work by William C. Taylor and Polly LaBarre, HarperCollins

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October 2008 – Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

I have been preaching a simple approach to solving the developer’s complaints that it takes too long in almost all communities to process development approvals. The solution is very simple:

  1. Set clear performance standards that both the developers and the community agree on.
  2. Add appropriate staff and processes to achieve the performance standards.
  3. Raise the fees as necessary for staff and technology.
  4. Teach management how to monitor the processes.

I recently had the opportunity to visit Henderson, Nevada. One of the three communities the University of North Carolina recently said was the best they could find. What did Henderson do?

  1. They set performance standards for all development activities.
  2. The City Council moved $4.1 million from the General Fund to the development enterprise fund to begin “ramping up services.” The functions added 31.5 positions with a target to remove any backlog of cases.
  3. The functions were given a three-month trial period to see if they could meet all performance standards 90% of the time.
  4. Fees were raised by 77% with the proviso that they would not take place until a month after the three-month trial period and achievement of 90% on-time performance. Yes, I did say 77% and evidently the developers agreed.
  5. It was not clear what would have happened had staff not met performance but my assumption is that a few heads would have rolled.
  6. But — the performance was met and fees are in place. See how easy it is?

The Management Doctor

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November 2008 – The Planning Commission’s Boring TV Show

As part of my consulting practice I have the opportunity to observe many Planning Commission meetings. I have now worked in over 150 cities and counties in 29 states and the Cayman Islands. Many of these Planning Commission meetings are televised. As a rule, the meetings are very boring and not well done. Yet, here is an opportunity for free TV time which can be used to build support for good planning as well as for building a better community. We need to build a constituency for good planning.

I have been encouraging planners to view the Planning Commission meeting as a combination meeting and TV show. So far I have lots of people smiling about the idea but no takers. I am looking for a community or two to give it a try.

I can’t tell you exactly how I would do it but here are a few thoughts:

  1. Make certain the graphics are clear and read well on the TV monitor.
  2. Make certain the staff presentation is succinct and makes the point to the Planning Commission, citizens in the audience, and those watching TV.
  3. Give the Planning Commissioners some TV training. Part of this could simply be showing them how they come across on the tube. The same is true for staff.
  4. Make certain the names of the speakers are clear on the screen. Generally the name plates on the dais are too small to read from the back of the room.
  5. Instead of static maps and graphics, take advantage of film. It is inexpensive and easy to manipulate. Most people can relate better to a short film than a static map. One planner even suggested to me, I think as a joke, that they could have a camera in the field with a remote hook up so a planning commissioner could say, “pan over to the left so I can have another look at the landscaping or the view.” May sound a bit far out but we are in the technology age. Our kids are doing it on their cell phones.
  6. Even on consent items, a 45-second film can highlight the importance of this project to the community.
  7. The planning commissioners like to shine, but there may be a better way than simply giving them the usual air time. How about highlighting one member each meeting with a short (two minute) interview film about how they see the community and the need for good planning. The same could be done for staff. Think outside the box, other community leaders could also be featured. Maybe even Joe the plumber!
  8. Power point? Yes if properly done. Why not add some sound?
  9. Check with your local TV station to see if they can give you some professional help or suggestions.
  10. There are many good films available concerning planning. Arrange with your station to have these shown right after the Planning Commission meeting. Maybe even convince the Commissioners to stay and watch it together over coffee and desert.
  11. Some communities are also doing short films of their own with topics like:
    • Do I need a building permit?
    • How to install a retaining wall.
    • What the General Plan means for your neighborhood.
  12. Want to get way out there? Maybe we could get places like Berkeley or Santa Monica to start a Planning Commission Blog that would be underway during the meeting and flash across the screen at the end of the meeting.

Some of you may already be doing one or two things as a start. Email them to me and I will share them with our readers.

The Management Doctor

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Reader Responses

A good topic — food for thought. Since I came on board here in 2006 we have been using PowerPoint at the PC meetings. At times we do need to sharpen up our presentations and graphics though. We have limited resources for filming at this time, although I have seen it used effectively. The local community college tapes the PC meetings and then broadcasts them later on the government cable channel which only reaches folks in the two cities locally. Streaming the meetings on the web would be good for some residents out of the cities but we are not set up for that right now and some parts of the County can only access the Internet with dial-up. The Board of Supervisors has asked us to look into taping and then broadcasting our upcoming General Plan Advisory Group meetings as part of our comprehensive update program. If that goes forward I believe we will get some good experimentation there which can then go on to the regular PC and perhaps the Board meetings.

Art Henriques
San Benito County

Given our state of technology, there’s little excuse not to go “live” where we can, but at least stream good planning video from our internet presence.

I’ve become interested in Wilmington, NC of late as one of several places to which I might retire in a few years. As a result I can’t keep from following their planning efforts on the web. I’ve been impressed by Wilmington’s broad use of video both live and via archived video streams from the city website. See Wilmington’s archive up to and including the November 5 Planning Commission Meeting at sher.php?view_id=2 Every meeting there is not exciting but on the whole I think they lead the pack and expect you will hear from someone on staff there.

Here in Lancaster County we don’t have access to free television on which to display our planning wares. We are, however, beginning to learn how to put video on the web. See the well done story of our county comprehensive plan, Envision, at cwp/view.asp?Q=614743&A=7. Choose the broadband presentation if you have it available.

Danny F Whittle, AICP
Lcncaster County Planning Commission

I agree with your observation that televised Planning Commission meetings are boring, particularly given the fact that TV viewers are used to a “story line” that has a start and finish spanning 1/2 hour to 1 hour.

When I was director of the City of Cupertino, Department of Community Development, a professional local cable TV staff (city employees) produced 3 to 4 minute professionally narrated video clips of each agenda item which not only provided a more interesting “show” but saved time by eliminating a static, often boring staff presentation. The videos provided a video of the site, its context, the development plans, and key issues. Staff augmented the presentation if last minute changes or issues developed post production. The Planning Commission, cable viewers, and hearing audience loved the production!

Give Steve Piasecki, the current Director of Community Development, a call for his assessment. The city has invested in more technology since my departure in 2000.

Bob Cowan

December 2008 – How Government Clients Drive Consultants (Me) Crazy!

100% of my consulting practice is with cities and counties so I love them dearly. However, many of them drive me nuts. Here are a few of my pet peeves.

  1. RFP vs. RFQ
    I know APA pushes the RFQ route and I think the Private Practice Division does also. For large projects over $100,000 this may be fine. However, for the smaller projects it doesn’t cost me anymore to go right to the RFP. If I pass through the RFQ to the RFP, the process actually costs me more. This is particularly true since most of the RFQ requests simply ask for too much data.
  2. Notarizing Forms
    Unless you have a notary in your building, this is a waste of time and a pain. If we start to work with the community, they will know who we are without having a notary certify that we are indeed who we say we are.
  3. What Do They Really Want?
    It is not unusual that we get bids (since we are professionals they are really proposals but in reality they are more like bids) that have one page describing the project and 30 pages of city boilerplate. Sometimes the scope is hidden. Since they don’t seem to want to be specific, they ask for the moon. When we bid on the moon, our costs go up. The more specific the RFP, the better job we can do.
  4. Costs
    Most won’t tell you what they have in their budget and I guess they are hoping you will low bid. The best approach is if they just lay it out in the RFP and we can tell them what we can or cannot do for that amount of money. We can always say that it is not enough for what they want to do and here is what their budget should really look like. We have been approached by cities that have a $20,000 budget for work that would cost $100,000.
  5. Don’t Talk To Us
    Most don’t allow us to talk to staff that may actually know what they are looking for. Instead we are allowed to talk to someone in purchasing that doesn’t really know what’s going on. Also, it is not unusual that when the bid comes out, the contact person goes on vacation and will return the day or day after the bid is due.
  6. Paper – Paper – Paper
    The electronic age is here but I have had only one government willing to accept an electronic proposal. Think of all the trees we could save if we didn’t need those 15 nicely bound copies.
  7. Forms
    I’d like to get rid of my last office typewriter if I could only get government to stop insisting that we answer the RFP using their forms with those tiny spaces.
  8. Thank You
  9. Government doesn’t seem to realize that it will cost several thousands of dollars for a typical proposal. Yet, many cancel the contract or select someone with no response to bidders. A simple thank you for bidding would be nice.
  10. Feed-Back
    Don’t we all like to do a good job and improve? It would be nice if more governments told us what they liked or didn’t like about our proposal, maybe without asking or twisting their arm for information. We must be tough to be in this business, so give it to us straight. We want to improve and learn.

WOW, do I feel better. Even though we get 50 to 75% of everything we bid and receive a lot of sole source work, it sure felt good to write this.

Reader Responses

I agree with most of your concerns; okay, complaints! I actually think the RFQ process helps us narrow down those that we really want to spend some time with on proposals – it takes staff time also to review the paper sent to us by consultants and if I can narrow the selection of those we really want to bid; I’m all for saving tax dollars! I agree, don’t know why the notarizing is usually required, and am as frustrated as you are with the multitude of boilerplate — but, those are typically required by purchasing, treasurer, legal, etc.; departments we have very little control over. Maybe it would help if the consulting trade could make an affirmative effort to explain why this is costly and adds to the cost of contracts.

I’ll keep this and use it next time we can solicit for consultant assistance.

Michael A. Harper, FAICP
Washoe County Community Development Department

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