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 A motion to eliminate those communications entirely was considered then withdrawn.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.