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APA Utah News & Events


May 19, 2021 by admin
Community Type, Equity

This article does not necessarily reflect the attitudes or opinions of APAUT or the APAUT Executive Committee.

The article, “It’s Complicated (Ok, you’ve heard that before, but maybe not for this topic – billboards) (John Janson, April 2021, raised ethical questions for elected officials and planners alike. In the context of signage, including billboards, the article stated, billboard companies make “contributions” to the political campaigns of elected state and local officials. The author believes these contributions raise “ethical issues for community leadership and (for) you (the planner).” As the Utah Chapter, American Planning Association’s Professional Development and Ethics Officer, I agree. The article asked, “what’s a planner to do?” Good question. I would add, what is an elected official to do? Before suggesting answers, it is necessary to consider the ethical issues raised, if any, when an elected official accepts a “contribution” of any kind.

Both the Ethical Principles in Planning and the AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct embrace the principle that all participants in any planning process should have allegiance to the public interest. The American Planning Association suggests the public interest “is formulated through continuous and open debate.” However, the public interest is not a singular concept but is multidimensional, with multiple interests combining to create a community’s shared public interests. When planning includes all voices, both the loud and the softer, shared public interests are discoverable. Discovery is possible by considering the various public policy pronouncements, including those included in a general plan. When a planner’s behavior is consistent with the public interests embodied in a policy or general plan, a planner may be somewhat confident of their allegiance to the public interest. What then is a planner to do? To act in harmony with the community’s adopted policies, some of which are found in the general plan. When a general plan provides a policy statement towards signage of any type, including billboards, then act to achieve that policy. We should never avoid our ethical responsibilities or hope that others will assume our obligations to act or speak up. Stand up and be counted, planners. Awkward or not, as leaders and participants in various planning activities, we have the responsibility to stand ethically tall.

What are elected officials to do? Elected officials in Utah are subject to the Utah Public Officers’ and Employees’ Ethics Act. One (1) of its purposes is “to promote the public interest and strengthen the faith and confidence of the people of Utah in the integrity of government” (§67-16-2, Utah Code). All elected municipal and county officials also take an Oath of Office. “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support, obey and defend the constitution of the United States and the constitution of this state and that I will discharge the duties of my office with fidelity.” “Discharge the duties of my office with fidelity” is applicable here. “Fidelity” is a strict and continuing faithfulness to an obligation, trust, or duty. Our elected community leaders, like planners, take upon themselves an allegiance to the public interest. Both elected officials and planners commit the public interest. What is the elected official to do? Behave and act in ways that strengthen faith and confidence in government and fulfilling their duties with allegiance to the public interest. When any “contribution,” real or perceived, affects the judgment of an elected community official, then by their actions, their fidelity to public office and allegiance to the public interest comes into question.


Bruce Parker, AICP

Utah Chapter-APA Professional Development and Ethics Officer

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