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A simple oversight can create big problems

The responsibilities of municipal elected officials are broad in scope, so it is easy to overlook one of the many responsibilities of cities. This is especially true for a municipality with little to no staff. But even the oversight of obscure requirements can have serious consequences.

One example is the failure of city officials to comply with the mandatory training requirements under the Comprehensive Planning Act of 2003.

The law requires members of the planning commission, the board of zoning appeals and architectural review board, as well as staff who directly or indirectly work with these boards and commissions, to complete six hours of orientation training within 365 days of their appointment. These individuals must also attend at least three hours of continuing education training each successive year of service.

The consequences for not meeting the training requirements are severe. An appointed official can forfeit his office, and a professional employee can be suspended or dismissed. It could also be grounds to invalidate actions taken by a noncompliant staff member or board/commission member and seriously jeopardize a town’s planning and zoning efforts.

The Municipal Association encourages councils to adopt the following best practices to support training compliance:

  • Make sure prospective appointees to the planning commission, the board of zoning appeals and architectural review board understand and agree to comply with the mandatory educational requirements as a condition of appointment and continued service.
  • Send a written notice by December 31 each year to the affected board and commission members clearly stating the training requirements and providing a calendar of available training options.
  • Remind board and commission members each year, no later than their appointment/employment anniversary date, of the requirement to file a certification of training compliance with the municipal clerk, who by law, is responsible for maintaining certification records.
  • Review training records of planning officials at least annually. Take immediate corrective actions if necessary to ensure that officials satisfy the orientation and continuing education requirements.

The Association offers the only approved training program for municipal/county officials and employees. Approved facilitators provide the training using preapproved materials and DVDs produced specifically to meet the requirements outlined in state law.