Everyday Ethics for Practicing Planners

By Carol Barrett, FAICP

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As veteran planner Carol Barrett points out, the most troublesome conflicts for planners aren't between good and bad, they're between competing good, neither of which can be fully achieved. The 54 real-world scenarios described here typify the tough moral dilemmas that confront today's practioners.

Barrett offers planners a way to recognize the ethical conflicts that arise in everyday practice, analyze them using "practical moral reasoning," apply relevant sections of the AICP Code of Ethics and the APA/AICP Ethical Principles in Planning (both of which are included in full), and decide on the best course of action.

She tells a series of stories — each one a sticky situation that could confront a typical planner. Barrett points out the ethical issues, identifies possible alternatives, and cities relevant sections of the AICP Code. Finally she discusses the pros and cons of each alternative. Five particularly complex scenarios are especially intended for group discussion.

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Date Published
Jan. 1, 2002
APA Planners Press

Table of Contents


1. Introduction
Why this publication was prepared and how to use it • The sources of our ethics • Internal • External • The role of the planning commission in establishing the ethical climate • How to recognize an ethical planner • The role of the planning commission in establishing the ethical climate • Tools for learning about ethics • Reading and responding to the scenarios • Sample scenario {What are you willing to do to keep your job?}• How to react to a possible ethical lapse • Procedures under the code of ethics • Using the scenarios • As a reader • In a workshop • A word about the moderator • Is it worth the effort to try and uphold ethical principles?

2. Scenarios and Community
When the planning director wants affordable housing • Temporary toilets • Using the zoning ordinance to eliminate feeding programs for the homeless • Public decision-making without public input • Planner wonder if community understands • Development's potential impact • Where have all the affordable rental houses gone? • Being responsive to Hispanic community values • A simple office conversion • Annexation analysis blues • Sending the sex shops next door • Street vendors vs. corporate America • Balancing compassion and enforcing the sign ordinance • Moving the airport • Annual birthday dinner • Developer offers summer employment to planners' children • Being offered confidential information • When an appointed official seeks permit aproval • Planner suspects developer influence on planning commissioners • No home for group homes • Making time for planning on the planning commission agenda • Off the job social relationships affecting on the job performance • Senior planner questions competence of director • Do you have a duty to report and publicize suspicious conduct? • Doing outside professional work on office time • A planner works part time in real estate sales • Can you be a consultant to the public agency for which you once worked? • Private enterprise seeks a public official • Dealing with allegations of sexual harassment • Window dressing minority contracting • Planning director browbeats consultants • What happens when a consultant takes on too much work? • The consultant's new staff • The consultant's brochure • Preserving Indian artifacts • Negative comments about consultant work • Giving credit where credit is due • Grocery store market analysis • Who determines the real numbers • Pricing the comprehensive plan • What's the difference between exactions and extortion? • When the rules for the game seem to change • Using the planning process to stop an unpopular land use • Is something serious really going on? • Planner spies endangered species • Are wetlands an ethical issue? • Does historic preservation overrule religious rights? • Disclosing your employer • Damson preserves • When your personal values clash with a planning assignment

3. Discussion Scenarios
When a university flexes its muscle • An exercise in damage control • Whistle blowing or blowing in the wind • Prioritizing non work that occurs at the office • Arnold oil company conditional use application

Scenarios organized by applicable code elements • AICP code of ethics and professional conduct • AICP advisory rulings • AICP/APA ethical principles in planning • Answer sheet for ethics workshop • The social responsibility of the planner • ICMA code of ethics with guidelines and declaration of ideals