Remedies against a Planning Commission
What remedy do citizens have when the City Planning Commission is operating with 8 members, contrary to statute? Thank you.
Wayne County Michigan
Thanks for sending along this question. The Michigan Planning Enabling Act (MPEA) allows for a Planning Commission for a City, Village, or Township to have 5, 7, or 9 members (MCL 125.3815 (2)). Based on your question, I am going to answer this with three scenarios and you can decide which answer is best suited to the situation.
Scenario 1, Vacancy: The Planning Commission is operating with 8 members because there is a vacancy on the board, but the board normally consists of 9 members. In this case, there is just a vacant seat for a 9-member Planning Commission. It is very common and there is nothing “wrong” with having a vacancy. It is very difficult in some communities to find people to serve on these boards and it can sometimes take several months to fill a position. In order to remedy a lengthy delay to fill a seat, the public could a) volunteer to serve, b) motivate others to put their name in for consideration, and/or c) continue to bring it up at smaller committee meetings to gently remind the board that they have a seat to fill.
Scenario 2, Extra person: The Planning Commission is operating with 8 members because there is an extra person serving on the board with full voting rights, but the board consists of 7 members. This would be highly unusual (because it is normally difficult to fill these positions!). Here, the legislative body would need to amend the planning commission ordinance to increase the number of board members from 7 to 9 to allow for that 8th person, and then appoint another to make 9. Another option would be to remove the 8th member if they were appointed in conflict with the Planning Commission rules (a mistake was made). The key thing here would be to locate the documents that established the size of the Planning Commission—usually this is a planning commission ordinance but it could be some other document. Contacting the head of the Planning Department would be a good option to start this conversation.
Scenario 3, Ex-officio PC member—(Not an Alternate): There is another explanation—that an additional member is perhaps serving as an “ex-officio” Planning Commission member. Sometimes this is the chief administrative official (City Manager, County Supervisor, County Administrator) or the chief elected official. The MPEA offers several options for Ex-officio members. In my own experience, a County added one ex-officio member to the board (the County Administrator) for the update to the Master Plan. Here, checking the bylaws or the Planning Commission ordinance to understand the role of the ex-officio member would be an important next step.
Some communities make the mistake of having an “Alternate” Planning Commission member that is brought in to vote when one of the regular members is absent or has a conflict. This practice is not allowed by the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act. ONLY the Zoning Board of Appeals is granted the authority to have alternate members (MCL 125.3601 (7))
I hope one of these explanations helps with your question.