Planning Ethics: Lessons from 2019

Ethical issues involving certified planners are handled by the AICP Ethics Officer and the AICP Ethics Committee, which is a seven-member group appointed by the AICP President. A formal annual report on the activities of the committee is required by the AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct (section C5b).

Of the nine ethical misconduct complaints filed last year against AICP members, only two resulted in a disciplinary action. In each case, the certified planner received a “Confidential Letter of Admonition (CLA)” that was directed only to the individual.

One of the CLAs concerned a public planner who had divulged confidential information to an applicant, thereby violating Rule of Conduct #7 in the AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. In the other case, a public planner received a CLA for having worked as a real estate agent in the same community where he was employed as a public planner, in the process violating Rules #4, #5, and #14 in the AICP Ethics Code. In both cases, the planners admitted their errors, resulting in a less-severe disciplinary action than a public censure or a suspension of their AICP certifications.

Seven other complaints were filed against individuals who were using the AICP credential, even though they were not AICP members. In each case, the individual was sent a cease-and-desist letter from AICP and — in all instances — the individuals subsequently agreed in writing not to use the credential and to remove it from all correspondence, resumes, business cards, and other documents.

In 2019, the AICP Ethics Officer also responded to 120 requests for informal advice from planners, elected and appointed officials, and members of the public. The inquiries covered a wide range of ethical topics and concerns.

Bar graph of AICP ethics cases that arose in 2019. Graphic by Susan Deegan.

Over the past five years (2015–19), the two most commonly referenced Rules of Conduct from the AICP Ethics Code have been #1 (accurate information) and #7 (confidential information). Other frequently cited Rules are #3 (wrongful act), #14 (special advantage), #3 (changed positions), #4 (secondary employment), and #6 (personal financial gain).

In addition to the above activities, the AICP Ethics Committee in 2019:

  • Prepared an “Ethics Cases of the Year” to be used by state and local chapters — and other training bodies — for Certification Maintenance ethics training during 2019 and early 2020. The scenarios in the case were drawn from real-life misconduct cases and informal inquiries received the previous year. (A new Case of the Year for 2020–21 will be presented in April at the National Planning Conference in Houston.)
  • Initiated the process of updating the AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, based in part on several requests by APA divisions and chapters. The committee is part of an Ethics Code Update Task Force (appointed by the AICP President) that has created a series of issue reports whose recommendations will be reviewed by membership and boards later in 2020.
  • Reviewed and recommended ethics sessions for the 2020 National Planning Conference in Houston.
  • Upheld, upon appeal, the dismissals of two misconduct complaints by the Ethics Officer.
  • Approved “settlement agreements” by planners in two misconduct cases.
  • Issued a Formal Advisory Opinion to a public planner whose spouse was employed by a private consulting firm doing work in the planner’s community. Because of the sensitive nature of this FAO request, the committee agreed not to publish the opinion.
  • Declined another Request for a Formal Advisory Opinion due to the lack of specifics involved in the case.
Map of the United States displaying AICP ethics cases that arose in 2019. Graphic by Susan Deegan.

If you have an ethics issue, please contact the AICP Ethics Officer. All communications will be confidential. For instance:

  • If you would like to seek informal advice on an ethics matter, please leave a voice mail message for the Ethics Officer at 312-786-6360.
  • If you would like to file a misconduct complaint against an AICP member, please visit www.planning.org/ethics for more information and fill out an ethical misconduct form.
  • If you would like to report someone you believe is misrepresenting themselves as an AICP member, please send an email to ethics@planning.org.

Top image: Thinkstock photo.


About the Author
Jim Peters, FAICP, was appointed the AICP Ethics Officer by the AICP Commission in April 2015. Among the duties of the Ethics Officer are: investigating complaints of ethical misconduct, providing informal ethics advice to membership, helping to develop educational materials, and serving as staff to the Ethics Committee.

February 28, 2020