Planning Zen: How to Bring Municipal Enlightenment to Your Local Government

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Five tips for being a more mindful and effective planning commissioner.

The Planning Commission is a key component of any local government. They may not get much time in the limelight (unless they are in trouble), but they do valuable work that keeps elected policy makers informed and directed on complex issues. 

As a planning commissioner yourself, you know that finding time to fulfill your civic responsibilities isn’t easy. Two problems in particular haunt your to-do list:

  1. There’s always too much to plan for.
  2. The “powers that be” never listen to you quite like they should.

And so, when you get down to doing your job, things can get stressful. If you’re wishing there was a way to do more with less and contribute to your community in a bigger way, you need to get some planning zen in your life. 

5 Practices For Increased Planning Zen

You can do your job better—with less time and stress—by being proactive about how you approach your duties as a planning commissioner. From our years working with local governments across the US, we’ve divined a few practices that heighten the capabilities of planning commission members, no matter how much experience they have (or don’t have). 

1. Know Why You’re Here

A Planning Commission’s primary duty is to, yes, plan. Specifically, planning commissioners serve as advisors to the municipality’s legislative body and study land use related issues and policies that need to be brought before the Council or County Commission. 

Two primary focuses of planning commissioners are land use regulations and community development. These are major concerns of any community, and your inspired work directly contributes to making the lives of your neighbors better.

2. Know What You Can And Can’t Do

Your job, along with powers and responsibilities associated with that job, is spelled out in your local municipal ordinances (or at least it should be). If you haven’t done it recently, you should take time to read the applicable ordinances and take note of what role the local law spells out for you. Knowing the bounds of your powers is a first step to using them wisely.

3. Focus On What You Can Control

Since the Planning Commission doesn’t have legislative power, your primary job is to inform (and potentially persuade) those that do. You can do this best by making quality data your priority; emotional anecdotes can be a nice touch, but the core of your recommendations should be unfeeling, unbiased data. 

Once you’ve made your case on an issue, step back and let go. Don’t get caught up with stressing about decisions that you don’t have control over. Your time and energy are too valuable for that. 

4. Think Long-Term 

Good planners nurture within themselves an ability to look past today and focus on lasting, non-trivial issues. Detach from urgent needs today and complaints about short-term problems. By the time you study an issue, get it debated and voted on by the legislative body, and wait for the solution to be implemented, the problem might be gone (or you might have transcended). Instead, think about what your community wants to look like in five or ten years. What needs to happen to make that vision come to pass?

5. Learn Robert’s Rules Of Order 

Municipal enlightenment doesn’t come through planning commissioners arguing, talking over one another, or dominating the discussion. It comes through listening to each other in level-headed discussion. 

Robert’s Rules are used in most legislative bodies in the US, from Congress to local public hearings. Knowing your way around them will help you express yourself confidently but not overbearingly. When you’re asked to chair a public meeting, your inner peace won’t be jeopardized by a feeling of panic; instead you’ll be able to comfortably and effectively facilitate a healthy debate on even the most charged issues.

(Need to brush up on Robert’s Rules? Take 15 minutes and do so with this free civiclinQ module all about Planning Commissions.)

Meditate On This

Sometimes you need more experience and better data than you have to answer the question at hand. There’s something soul-liberating about calling an expert planner who specializes in solving your problems. 

Call Rural Community Consultants today to get expert planning, economic, and ordinance advice to make your community the best it can be. 

Want To Learn More?

Check out our online training modules! Note: Rural Community Consultants is able to provide access to specific training modules free of charge, courtesy of the Utah Office of the Property Rights Ombudsman.

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