How to Make a Difference at a Planning Commission or City Council Hearing

by Amanda Fritz, Portland Planning Commission member 1996 - 2003

1. Provide information, in plenty of time and in useful formats.

2. Be polite and respectful, both to the decision-makers and to any opponents.

3. Plan your testimony, and use your time wisely.

4. Say what you want the decision-makers to do, clearly and repeatedly, and why.

5. Know the rules, and quote them.

6. The Rule of Three - Tell them, tell them again, tell them what you told them.

7. Organize diverse participation with more than a single constituency.

8. Use Meeting Mechanics to your advantage.

9. Use Personal Contacts to your advantage.

10. Be gracious in victory and defeat - use either to prepare for Next Time.

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How to Make a Difference at a Planning Commission or City Council Hearing

1. Provide information, in plenty of time and in useful formats.

Often, decision-makers don't know as much about the issue as you do. They have to vote on multiple issues, week after week. You care most about one item on their agenda, and can research it in far greater detail than they can. Your goal is to convince them your position has more support (factually and/or in citizen popularity) than the other side.

Different people have different ways of processing information. So provide a one-page overview with bullets, for those who don't read much, followed by several pages with all the details you feel are important, for those who like to consider all the facts. Use photographs/diagrams if possible, for visual learners. For the Planning Commission, this means at least ten days before the hearing, because the members are mailed a briefing package with letters submitted to date, the week prior to the hearing. For City Council, get your testimony in by the Thursday of the week before, if you can. Even the day before is better than at the hearing. FAX or e-mail, or both (some legislators prefer one or the other).

3. Plan your testimony, and use your time wisely.

4. Say what you want the decision-makers to do, clearly and repeatedly, and why.

6. The Rule of Three - Tell them, tell them again, tell them what you told them.

7. Organize diverse participation with more than a single constituency.

8. Use Meeting Mechanics to your advantage.

10. Be gracious in victory and defeat.

Neither is entirely up to you. Citizen involvement means doing your best to make a positive contribution to making your community better. You can't do it alone, and often you won't be able to do it at all. But God willing, there will be another day, another issue, another opportunity to do your part to make a difference.

Be sure to celebrate your victories and acknowledge those who helped achieve them. Write thank-you letters/e-mails to decision-makers who heard and helped you. Let go of your defeats and hope you were wrong, that the choice you worked hard to oppose might turn out for the long term public good after all. Don't let one loss keep beating you.

Never, never, never give up, but do go on, move on, try a different issue or a different approach. Remember your family and friends matter more, and you matter more to them, than a civic victory or defeat. Be proud of who you are and what you stand for, whether others agree with you or not. It takes us all to make our city great.