Who Asked For Your Opinion Anyway?

Dear Management Doctor:

I am the first City Planner for a historic tourist community with a population of 2,400 and an average visiting population of approximately 35,000 any given day of the tourist season. I have been on the job for one year. The position was budgeted for 20 hours per week. It has been suggested to me by individuals high up in the city government that I have no business attending the Planning Commission meetings unless in certain circumstances I have been requested to attend in order to address specific issues or items.

It is my understanding that the planner (the only planning staff in the city) coordinates with applicants and the commission, prepares packets of pertinent information, provides guidance and clarification, acts as a technical resource, assists in drafting new ordinances, makes recommendations, responds to specific and general requests and inquiries by the commission, etc. This is not the only responsibility, of course. The planner should not be relegated to the status of clerk and paper pusher. However, it is my understanding that the planner and the commission are integrally linked.

It was also suggested that it was inappropriate for me as City Planner to give my opinion on a land use issue and a recommendation to the Council in a public hearing on an appeal of a decision by the Planning Commission. In a memo to the Mayor and council, I had discussed the land use issue relative to the goals of the Vision Plan and I had recommended that the item be sent back to the Planning Commission for further investigation and hearing. I spelled out my reasoning behind this recommendation in detail. I made it clear that this was from me, the City Planner. I clarified to the council members that by ordinance this is one of the options available to them in an appeal.

Please provide me with some feedback and guidance. Perhaps a job description for a city planner where he is the only planning staff will be helpful.

Thank you in advance for your assistance.

Opinion Frustrated

Dear Opinion Frustrated,

It sounds like your community just wants a clerk and not a city planner. They need to define what they want from a 20-hours-per-week employee.Then you need to decide if you are willing to do that.

If they want a city planner, then you should:

  1. Provide staff reports and recommendations on all items coming before the Planning Commission.
  2. Advise the Planning Commission on all planning items. Yes, normally staff and the commission are integrally linked.
  3. Attend the Planning Commission meeting.
  4. Prepare plans and ordinances to carry out good planning.

You may wish to check the code of ethics for members of the American Institute of Certified Planners regarding many planners' ethical requirements.

The question you raise regarding an appeal from the Planning Commission to the council is a different issue. In many communities, the position of the Planning Commission is the key recommendation that goes to the council, and planning staff is obligated to represent this opinion before the council. Ideally, both the staff's opinion that was presented to the Planning Commission is attached to the Planning Commission's report to the council. The better councils want to know both opinions if there is a difference.

In one of my communities, I actually appealed the decision of the Planning Commission to the council. This almost got me fired and raised holy %$#@! However, the community actually discovered that the ordinance gave the Director the right to make this appeal and things settled down. Although I like this approach, it is virtually never used and you can imagine the political ramifications.

Bottom line, the tenor of your inquiry leads me to believe that your community really doesn't want a planner. I'd be happy to discuss this further on a confidential basis if you like. Call me at 1-800-870-6306.

The Management Doctor

Reader Responses

My advice to Opinion Frustrated is to get out of that community fast—and don't look back. I was in a similar resort community (perhaps the same one?) as their first CD Director, and it was a living &*% $#)!!! Brush off the resume—it sounds like you have your head on straight and will surely go far in another organization!

Signed, Been there, Done that!

Having been there, I'd also say that this is the type of community that most needs a planner, whether they realize it or not.

Bruce Kistler
Lakeland, FL

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