Be strategic about planning commission training

Limited budgets have restricted many communities’ ability to fund professional development for many of their boards and commissions. However, an informed and trained commission is critical to the success of an effective planning commission.

For many cities and communities, the fiscal crisis has limited their ability to fund services and activities. In an effort to balance budgets, one of the first-eliminated activities is training and development for staff. Therefore, training for volunteers falls down the list of financial priorities even more. This situation is particularly unfortunate since planning commissioners make important decisions with potential long-term impacts for the communities they represent.

If communities are limited by their funding, they should work to find affordable basic training at least for the chairman of the commission, especially if the entire commission consists of well-intentioned residents with no understanding of the planning and zoning laws, processes or procedures. They should also encourage the chairman to consider paying for some training as a personal development opportunity if absolutely no finding can be found. Some training can to found for less than one hundred dollars. Michigan State University Extension provides a variety of training opportunities in planning and zoning and in some instances can customize training based on a community’s ability to pay.

Training can be found with such organizations as the Michigan Association of Planning (MAP), Michigan Association of Counties (MAC), Michigan Township Association (MTA) and the Michigan Municipal League (MML). For some activities, scholarships may be available to off-set some of the costs for these trainings. Therefore, the goal is to be strategic and to make sure that at a minimum the chairman of the commission is trained. He/she can then help other commissioners by sharing what has been learned. Ideally, training should be provided for all commissioners. Unfortunately, financial realities may dictate otherwise.

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