Background information on the Wexford Joint Planning Commission
Wexford Joint Planning Commission membership (see article on ex parte contact to the right).
Wexford Joint Zoning Board of Appeals membership (see article on ex parte contact to the right).
Wexford Joint Planning Commission Ordinance and Agreement
Wexford Joint Planning Commission by-laws
Wexford Joint Zoning Board of Appeals rules of procedure
Freedom of Information Act policy
Summary of the Freedom of Information Act policy
Freedom of Information act forms.
Open Meeting Act Notices for the Joint Planning Commission
Open Meeting Act Notices for the Joint Zoning Board of Appeals
Attorney for the Joint Planning Commission
Planner of record for the joint Planning Commission
For members of a local planning commission, or zoning boards of appeals, it is particularly difficult to avoid having ex parte contact. They are not trying to be unfriendly, or not helpful. They are trying to do their job properly.
Ex parte contact happens when a member of a planning commission or zoning board of appeals (ZBA) are contacted by someone outside of the meeting concerning a pending issue, such as approval of a special use permit, planned unit development, site plan, or appeal. This type of contact should be avoided.
But to many, avoiding this type of contact is counter-intuitive. We believe one should hear concerns and listen. That is, after all, local representative government. So this becomes a big concern whenever presenting an education program on planning and zoning ethics.
But here is the other side of that coin: if a member of the planning commission or ZBA has a conversation on the street, etc. then how does someone else ever know what was said and have an opportunity to respond, supporting the conversation or refuting it? That basic level of fairness is important and what a planning commission and ZBA should strive for.
It is similar to going to court. You expect the judge to be fair and neutral. You expect that both sides to hear what the other has to say, and you have a fair opportunity to respond. If you did not even know the conversation took place, let alone what was said, you do not have any ability to respond. You would not expect the judge to be swayed by some talk about the case s/he had outside the courtroom.
In Michigan, planning commissions and ZBAs are administrative bodies. They are duty-bound to make decisions based on standards (found in the zoning ordinance). Representing the will of the majority of electors in a community is the job of the legislative body – the township board, village council, city council. It is not the job of the planning commission or ZBA.
The planning commission and ZBA need to behave closer to the expectation of fairness one has for a court. Some basic points are:
“Parties at the hearing . . . are entitled to an opportunity to be heard, to an opportunity to present and rebut evidence, to a tribunal which is impartial in the material, having had no prehearing or ex parte contacts concerning the question at issue . . . .” – Fasano V., Board of County Commissioners of Washington County.
For more information
The Wexford Joint Planning Commission discontinued their membership with the Michigan Association of Planning, and subscribes to the Planning & Zoning News magazine.
Other sources of training and information on planning and zoning are Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan Townships Association.