Thursday, June 16, 2016

Training is a must for planning and zoning officials

Listen to a podcast interview with Jeff Shacker, field services manager, about planning and zoning training.

Planning and zoning are two responsibilities of municipal government that the public often doesn’t see until there is a problem. Whether it’s a zoning decision a landowner disagrees with or a planning commission decision that doesn’t align with state law, controversy around planning and zoning will likely occur in just about every city at some point.

While it may be impossible to completely avoid controversy in these areas, proper training for appointed officials and staff who deal with planning and zoning is not just a good idea, it’s required by state law. 

Here’s the background….going back as far as 1924, the legislature granted local governments the authority to take on planning and zoning to manage growth and development. Local governments are not mandated to perform these duties. Each municipality must decide whether to exercise its planning authority. However, if local officials want to enact zoning regulations, they must also implement a planning program. 

All municipal planning and zoning must conform with the 1994 state South Carolina Local Government Planning Enabling Act (SC Code Title 6, Chapter 29). Plus, a 2003 amendment established mandatory training requirements for all appointees and staff involved with local planning and zoning.

The consequence for not meeting the training requirement is severe. An appointed official can be removed from office, and a professional employee can be suspended or dismissed. It could also be grounds for a legal challenge of official actions taken by a board or commission.

There are many roles in the planning and zoning process, and the Municipal Association has lots of resources for elected and appointed officials and staff who deal with these issues. The Comprehensive Planning Guide is a one-stop-shop for any questions related to planning and zoning. Also, the Association provides the required orientation and continuing education training. Plus there’s a listserv that planning and zoning staff can use to ask questions and share ideas.

Mayors and councilmembers can learn about planning and zoning from a Session A class in the Municipal Elected Officials Institute of Government. Officials attending the upcoming Annual Meeting can learn more about how to avoid the legal liability associated with planning and zoning decisions at a break-out session on Thursday, July 14.

The Association’s field services managers say they frequently get questions about the training requirements for planning and zoning officials. Get a few of them answered here and listen to a podcast interview with Jeff Shacker, one of the Association's field services managers, to learn more.

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