“Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you criticize them, you are a mile away from them and you have their shoes.” — Jack Handley
A crucial committee found in municipal government is the planning commission where the membership consists, by and large, of dedicated volunteers who perform a civic service out of love for their community and interest in the subject.
The requirement to institute an ordinance establishing a city planning commission is shaped by law in Utah Code 10-9a-301.
Mayors or city managers, depending on the municipal form of government, have the statutory authority to appoint, with the advice and consent of their city council, members of the planning commission (Utah code sections 10-3-809(2)(h), 10-3-1219(d) and 10-9-1226(2)(7)).
Authority given under state law to a planning commission includes making a recommendation to the city council for adoption and amendment of a general plan and making recommendations to the council on the adoption or amendment of land use ordinances, zoning maps and official maps. The planning commission must also be involved in making recommendations on proposed subdivision plats and recommending an annexation policy for the city.
No other powers or duties are required to be given to the planning commission and it does not have any other inherent powers, but it must operate within the constraints of state law.
The land use ordinances recommended to the city council by the planning commission must include an appropriate delegation of power to at least one designated land use authority to act on a land use application, an appropriate delegation of power to at least one “appeal authority” to hear and act on appeals from a decision of the land use authority, and lay out the application process that the city will use to consider any land use applications. (Utah Code 10-9a-302).
It is not uncommon for members of a planning commission to differ with a city council. That helps create good government and is understandable, as the primary purpose of the planning commission is to make reasoned recommendations to the council about the general plan and the land use ordinances; the city council, however, is under no obligation to agree with the opinion of the planning commission.
Advice from the planning commission is the product of long public processes and hard decision making. It can appear disrespectful to the process and the efforts of the planning commission when the council ignores its recommendations and goes off on its own. Decisions regarding the general plan and the adoption of land use ordinances are legislative acts that are intended to be made by elected policy makers and not by appointed commissioners.
Council members should respect the recommendation of the planning commissioners, but in the end they need to vote according to their conscience.
The purpose of a planning commission is fulfilled when it acts in a manner supportive of the policy and policy makers. This valuable function only serves when it operates within the constraints of the law and without regard to public prejudice and the clamor of the crowd.
Steve Curtis has worked as a business consultant and communication specialist. He is currently mayor of Layton. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.