Communication between county departments needs work
Getting all of the parts of a team to work out of the same playbook takes practice. But with no off-season in sight, the players in the county’s planning process took a retreat last month to find ways to make their process work more efficiently.
It was the first county meeting in five years to focus on improving the lines of communication between the Planning Commission, county staff, the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) and the Attorney’s Office.
County Commission chairperson Paula Swenson said the group agreed during the retreat to try meeting annually because, “You can have a plan set out but when your boards and commissions change, as they did this year, it’s hard to keep the same focus year in and year out.”
To make the most out of the one-day retreat, the county hired Greg Dale, a facilitator with extensive experience working with planning departments around the country, to help.
According to Williams, part of Dale’s purpose was to identify issues that keep the planning process from working with maximum efficiency. One key point that came out of the meeting was the need for better communication.
“From a commissioner’s point of view, I want to see the communication between the BOCC and the Planning Commission improved. We needed to clarify the mechanism for doing that and I think that was one of the major accomplishments of the retreat,” says Swenson.
The county commissioners addressed the communication breakdown and some of the other concerns raised during the retreat at a regular meeting on Tuesday, March 3.
Williams told the commissioners that the poor communication between county players is leading to “a sense that a mix of small and larger issues have been building up without an outlet for addressing them and that the impact-based [land-use resolution], with its many discretionary standards, contributes to those issues.”
Other meetings will follow to give participants in the process a chance to air any issues that come up, establish long-term goals for the Planning Commission and to keep other departments informed on the progress being made toward meeting those goals.
Another goal for the retreat, which was held across the street from the Blackstock government building where regular meetings are held, was to define the roles and responsibilities of each contributor in the planning process.
As the body that appoints the planning commissioners and sets the political tone for the county, the BOCC will continue setting the laws and policies that will guide the action of the Planning Commission, but now with more input from the Planning Commission itself.
The retreat also established that the county commissioners would define the roles and expectations of the Planning Commission, not only through the appointment process but also as meeting schedules are being planned and staff is directed to work on certain projects.
According to Williams, county planning staff will continue to “provide professional guidance and insight on planning, while keeping a long-range county-wide perspective. But there is also a renewed emphasis on customer service when working with the public.”
The job of the Planning Commission, which solely makes decisions on “minor-impact projects” and makes recommendations to the BOCC on “major-impact projects,” won’t change dramatically.
Williams says the current Planning Commission wants to set goals for the future, partially because they have a “hunger to do something other than reactive planning, or responding to a permit application” and that requires forethought.
“If people could go through the exercise and decide ‘Okay, we really do want growth in certain areas but not others,’ which is a tough exercise—it would make processing of applications much easier. Those are the kinds of things this Planning Commission would like to do,” she says.
Although the results of the retreat will not be seen in the planning process immediately, Williams and Swenson both agree that the conversations started there will ensure that the process runs more smoothly in the future.
Swenson says, “The application itself won’t change. But we’re hoping to implement a process where the issues are identified early on in the application process so when an applicant gets to the Planning Commission, everyone can be on the same page and things can move along more smoothly.”