Appointing & Evaluating Planning Directors

Dear Management Doctor:

My planning commission has asked me two questions:

  1. Who normally appoints the planning director?
  2. How are planning directors evaluated?


Dear Anonymous,

The appointment varies substantially, depending on the structure of the government. *

  • In City Manager structures the appointment is often by the City Manager, sometimes with confirmation by the City Council.
  • In strong Mayor cities, the appointment is often by the Mayor.
  • In week Mayor communities and with no City Manager, the appointment is often by the City Council.
  • The situation in counties is similar to that of cities. However, most counties do not have Mayors. The equivalent of the City Manager is often a County Administrator. When the County Administrator has powers similar to a City Manager, they may do the appointment. Often, their powers are more limited and the Planning Director is either appointed by the elected officials or at least confirmed by the elected officials.
  • There are a few communities where the Planning Director is appointed by the Planning Commission. However, this model has lost favor, primarily since most planning departments have multiple functions that are not directly controlled by the Planning Commission. The Planning Department supports the Planning Commission but is not subservient to them.
  • I recently completed a survey of the nation's 50 largest cities. The results from that survey are shown below. **

Evaluating Planning Directors is another matter. In theory, the appointing body should be doing the evaluation. Most communities have an annual evaluation system for all employees but they are often not well done, are not done for the managers, or skip several years.

Even when the community has a formal evaluation process, it is difficult to evaluate the managers. Often the appointing authority does not have enough hands-on experience to conduct a good evaluation. For managers, I prefer what is called a 360 degree evaluations. (Look it up under Google for more information). In this system the managers is evaluated by superiors, peers, subordinates and the Planning Commission could also be part of the mix. These are done on a confidential and anonymous basis. If a manger wants to improve, these can be excellent.

For Planning Directors, the evaluation may be as simple as, do you still have a job?

I hope our readers will share experiences from their communities that I can pass along.

The Management Doctor


* Note: Interesting organizational history is also covered in the Growing Smart Legislative Guidebook, 2002 Edition, American Planning Association.

** This entire survey may be purchased on our web site at