By editorial board • 

Staff reports don’t need to be marathons

Oregon Sen. Wayne Morse filibustered 22 hours and 26 minutes in 1953.

Don’t give the McMinnville Planning Department staff any ideas. They like to talk.

People packed the April 18 planning commission meeting to oppose a development they feel threatens local wetlands. But many gave up and went home before getting the chance, as planner Jamie Fleckenstein’s staff report lasted an hour and 42 minutes.

You could watch “The Wizard of Oz” in that time, with a minute to spare. Toss in a presentation by developers and questions from commissioners, and you could watch all 162 minutes of “Forrest Gump.”

By law, public hearings on land use issues follow a formula: staff report, questions from the governing body, presentation by the applicant, second round of questions.

Next, people in favor of the application have their chance. Only then does the microphone finally pass to the opposition.

With just a few minutes to express their often passionate opinions, members of the public already struggle to believe their voice matters. “You have already made your decision,” is a common refrain from critics, for right or wrong. Staff reports rivaling the length of blockbuster movies can add to the unrest.

Richards outdid Fleckenstein by 48 minutes in 2017, presenting a report running as long as “Pulp Fiction.”

City councilors were considering zone changes for another subdivision at the time. Defying staff recommendation, planning commissioners had rejected the zone change the previous month, after listening to a much shorter staff report. Ever since, the bigger the opposition, the more thorough the report.

City planners would argue complicated issues require elaborate reports. The written report for last week’s meeting was roughly 139,000 words — 3,000 longer that Dickens’ classic “A Tale of Two Cities.”

Does the planning staff need to go through reports point by point, as if leading storytime at the library? Should they go through comments submitted beforehand by critics, just to rebut their arguments?

Staff reports never turn into marathons at the county. The county staff leads with a neutral facts-only version; it doesn’t develop and present a recommendation until all parties have had their say.

The city must reconsider its public hearing process.

Initial reports should be confined to facts. Recommendations can wait.

In addition, city officials might want to state up front that a hearing will be continued at the next meeting so concerned citizens don’t have to endure a sleep-inducing staff narrative.

In recent weeks, both the planning commission and council have faced houses packed with citizens already feeling they aren’t being heard. That’s not an impression city officials should cement by spending more time talking than listening.



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