Planners at Council Meetings

Dear Management Doctor:

I am the City Planner for a small town. My boss is the Community Development Director who is also the Building Official. Since I am the only planner on staff, and responsible for all development in the city, I have requested that I attend the City Council meetings when there is a planning item on the agenda. The Director will not allow me to attend the council meetings in my capacity as the city planner. Budget is not really an issue.

Thanks for your help!

Frustrated Planner

Dear Frustrated Planner,

Why does he say he doesn’t want you to attend? Some cities only want the department head to make presentations to the Council even though I think the planners should. I never heard of a city where the planner was told not to attend. I think you should be allowed to attend. Tell the boss that you heard he does a great job at the City Council. As part of your education and career advancement you can learn by observing.

Good luck!

The Management Doctor

Reader Responses

I was amused by respondents talking about the Director's insecurity. Although the Director should be chastised for not explaining the reason why.

It's always been my preference to let the planner handling the project make the presentation to the Commission and Council/Board. However, in at least three communities where I've worked the elected officials want their director handling that duty. Just chalk it to one more meeting to attend.

Eric Jay Toll, Planning Director
County of Mariposa

I got a kick out of this query, since at certain points in a planner's career attending council meetings may seem mysterious and exotic.There are several reasons the Community Development Director may not want the planner to attend: (1) the CDD may want the council to transmit all requests for information through him/her rather than directly to the planner; (2) the CDD may be insecure in his/her knowledge of planning, and doesn't want to be shown up; (3) the City may have to pay the planner overtime for night meetings, even though "budget isn't the issue."

Stuart Meck, FAICP
Senior Research Fellow American Planning Association

The only valid reason for excluding staff planners from council meetings is a budgetary or compensatory time consideration. I had planners who would show up even though they were not needed and not requested, just so they could get comp time and take afternoons off. Generally it is a good thing for staff members to be there to see first-hand how the council handles items that originate from the planning department. I also think it is a good idea for staff people to get some face time with the elected officials.

Teree Bergman, FAICP

As a Community Development Director in a small office, my staff planners attend all the meetings because they are my backups for information and they need to be placed in this situation to help their careers.

Bill Card

Two possibilities might explain the frustrated planner's boss.
  1. His boss lacks confidence in himself as a contributing part of good city government and in his ability to lead and develop a staff planner as a legitimate contributor as well.
  2. His boss knows that the Council is just about fed up with all this planning stuff and if the Council were reminded that they were paying for staff other than the boss who has to be there because the town has been forced to adopt that blasted building code he administers, both might just get fired. The boss is just protecting the frustrated planner.

It could be some of both, but I suspect more 1 than 2.

Danny Whittle

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