Planning Commission Reconsiders their Meeting Policy

There’s been some informative discussion on local blogs about the Charlottesville Planning Commission and how they interact with the public. Over at Charlottesville Tomorrow, Brian Wheeler chronicles the planning commission’s February 15 meeting (complete with podcast audio) where:

the Charlottesville Planning Commission directed staff to prepare written guidelines strongly discouraging any communications between the Commissioners and developers or citizens with a position on a matter before the Commission. A motion to eliminate those communications entirely was considered then withdrawn. If approved, the City Planning Commission would adopt a style in sharp contrast to their neighbors in Albemarle County where these informal meetings with concerned citizens and developers are common practice.

Over at the new blog “Democratic Central,” responding to Charlottesville Tomorrow’s blog entry, Lloyd Snook weighs in strongly in favor of an open process:

When I was on the Planning Commission 20 years ago, I would meet with developers and citizens and neighbors and anyone else who wanted to talk about things. I wanted the most information possible. I didn’t want to have to get only the information that the staff gave me — not because I thought they were out to mislead me, but because they might not ask the same questions that I would ask.


This is not a jury system, where the decision makers can only base their decisions on what they learn in the courtroom. Planning Commissioners are generally thought of as legislators, and there are no restrictions on how legislators can gather their information.

I was asked to serve on the Charlottesville Planning Commission some years ago (I decided against it), but gave a lot of thought to it. I’ve got to agree with Lloyd Snook’s take on this, assuming that common sense is adhered to as Peter Kleeman suggests in a comment. Balancing open government and convenient government often isn’t easy; I’m glad there’s a public discussion about it.

3 thoughts on “Planning Commission Reconsiders their Meeting Policy”

  1. I’m in full agreement with Lloyd Snook and Peter Kleeman on this one. I think the more information and perspectives that a Planning Commissioner can glean on an issue, the more well-rounded his/her decision will ultimately be.

  2. I recall receiving a survey from the planning commission about a year ago. The tenor of the document concerned improving communication. Unless the respondents overwhelmingly voiced a desire to have no communication whatsoever I can’t imagine how such a move would make sense. If they haven’t done so already I think it would behoove the planning commission to make a summary of the survey available so that we can collate their proposal with the public interest.

  3. I have to say that I’m sympathetic with the viewpoint of those who express concern about one-on-one meetings, to the extent to which that viewpoint is motivated by a desire for open government. I disagree with them in this instance, but I think it’s great that we have people keeping open government as a concern and an ideal and trying to pull us towards that ideal.

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