Thursday, May 8, 2014

All Politics Is Local: 5 Lessons Associations Can Learn from a Planning Board

Alliance Red Shirts Jam Planning Board Hearing

For my entire association management career, I’ve been involved with national or international associations.  I’ve seen our profession from that perspective even though I have served as a volunteer board member for two local associations.

Yesterday, my wife and I joined about 300 of our neighbors at a city planning board hearing with regard to changes our developer wants to make to our community.

Here are my observations from the two hour meeting:


  • Our Alliance urged us to attend and to wear red shirts. As you can see from the photo, this makes a powerful statement that “we care.” 
  • The entire process seemed unorganized ... beginning when the chair called the meeting to order six minutes late. (No offense, but I strongly dislike meetings that do not start on time.)
  • Apparently, city statutes state that the applicant (in this case our developer) and city staff have unlimited time to speak at the hearing but we (the community involved) are limited to three minutes each. I’m not sure our Alliance leaders knew this.
  • If our Alliance leaders would have known the 3 minute rule, they/we could have had more residents sign up to speak and then yield our time to our president. (This, in fact, is what the planning board chair permitted us to do so our attorney could speak longer.) It seemed strange that we, the taxpayers, are not permitted to speak more than 3 minutes on an issue impacting us.
  • It would have helped if the Alliance had provided members attending with “talking points” ... then, we could have divided them up and several of us use “our 3 minutes” to get our key points conveyed to the board and in the official minutes of the hearing.
  • Our attorney emailed our objections to the city attorney and planning board just 1 ½ hours prior to the start of the meeting. The board decided that was too late to be considered. I can’t disagree with them. Volunteer boards should not be expected to consider background or documents delivered that late.
  • Our attorney’s objections, however, delivered verbally noted that the developer’s application was not accurate legally and did not include a proper description of the land involved. This presented the planning board a major issue that led to much discussion. After getting the developer and city staff to admit that the legal description was not accurate, the planning board was left to decide whether to recommend that the City Council approve the application (after it is cleaned up) or whether to delay its recommendation until the application was corrected.
Here are lessons this experience offers associations and nonprofit organizations:
  1. Start meetings on time!
  2. Know the ground rules of the governmental body so you are prepared.
  3. Make sure you have talking points for those participating on your side.
  4. Get your materials to the governmental body well in advance of the meeting. 
  5. If appropriate, have all your attendees where the same color shirts.

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