Whose Side Are They On?

A GUARDIAN reader suggests we pass a county ordinance similar to federal law for lobbyists.

He notes the recent announcement that Richard Cook, administrator of Ada County
P & Z, is leaving to take a high paid position at WRG Design, a consulting group to SunCor and Spring Valley Ranch.
This revolving door situation with Ada P&Z folks leaving the government and immediately going to work for developers is pretty bad for the citizens, notes our reader who said,   “They learned that from the military-industrial complex in the US government.  At least there is a 2 year ban on military people lobbying directly to their old offices.”

That might be an ethics policy that the local governments should be thinking about.  A little bright light played on this matter would help. While local government couldn’t dictate where someone works, they might be able to defer applications made by developers with former county officials on staff.
Those who we know have left P&Z to work for developers include:
Judy Peavey-Derr, Gerry Armstrong, Richard Cook, Mark Peccachino.

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. I presume the Guardian has his tongue epoxied into his cheek when he asks whom Ada County Development Services sides with.

    Why wonder, when you can have the answer from the source. The administrative record for the Hammer Flat subdivision application provided the following gem from a 9/30/04 non-public meeting between top-level Development Services staff and Skyline Development:

    “Our ord (sic) provides the process, we work as partners with the developers.”

    The person who uttered the statement remains unidentified. However, the director at that time, Gerry Armstrong, was in the meeting and if he didn’t make the statement, there is no mention of him disagreeing with it.

    For what it is worth, it isn’t just a case of Development Services siding with developers over the lay citizenry. Some developers get treated much better than others.

    Also note that, while the seating assignments at the county have changed, the ordinance that “provides the process” is still in place, along with two or the Commissioners that put it there. Until the ordinance is modified, nothing will change.

    An “anti-lobbyist” ordinance, it is a shot in the right direction. An open meeting law with real teeth, an end to the process by which Development Services bills their hours directly to their applicants, and an end to closed-door meetings between Development Services and applicants would also help.

  2. Nichoel Baird Spencer
    Oct 9, 2007, 9:36 am

    Local governments and citizens can ensure that their planning staff has committed to a national professional ethical standard by employing planners who are members of the American Institute of Certified Planners, These planners have meet both educational and professional experience standards in addition to sitting for a test of planning history, theory, practices and ethics. Further, they are required to complete continuing education credits in planning practices and ethic in order to maintain their ceritifications.

    There are numerous AICP members in the Treasure Valley who adhere to these ethical standards. For more information on certified planners please contact the Idaho Chapter of the American Planning Association which promotes and helps planners study for the AICP exam.

  3. Mr. Jones’s last two paragraphs stated some of the shortcomings of the system that could be fixed in the future. It also hints at that Development Services(DS) are working in the rules that were written for them.

    Seems the rules for the process and mission statement should be changed for DS instead of barking about the outcomes. Including balancing property rights for all parties without severely limiting them. Telling someone they can not develop their land could be akin to the whole eminent domain discussion.

  4. Mike Murphy, Bull Moose Tenor
    Oct 9, 2007, 6:08 pm


    Seems to me that I (as a Mayoral Candidate) called for more stringent Lobbying Laws when that story first broke.

    Oh well… C’est la Vie!

  5. I agree with Borzoi’s point that DS was only following their directives, much the same way that Ollie North was following his directives.

    As for property rights, the primary tool for balancing property rights while simutaneously promoting the general welfare to ourselves and our posterity, is a detailed, enforceable (i.e. codified), and enforced comprehensive plan and zoning map.

    Unfortunately, the current comp plan cannot be enforced because it was never codified. Even worse, the final draft of the comp plan revision that is currently in the drafting process is no more detailed, and no more enforceable, than the plan it is destined to replace. (Can you say, huge waste of time and money?)

    The need for enforceable zoning ordinances is not news to the commissioners. At the Sun Valley “Leadership Conference” they all attended last spring, about 1,000 people, developers, large and small business owners, and community representatives, enthusiastically called for the certainty and security that an enforceable plan would provide.

    Any politician that can’t find a way to get in front of that parade needs to be retired.

  6. curious george
    Oct 10, 2007, 6:02 pm

    I’m surprised that Nichoel Baird Spencer would bring up AICP certification as a way to address conflicts of interest in post-government employment.

    Idaho has no licensing requirements to practice planning, and without such the threat of “loosing” one’s certification (by engaging in so-called unethical conduct) is tantemount to no more than saving the annual cost of keeping the certification.

    The far larger threat rests against a private planning firm that would ask a recent government-sector employee to breach commonly accepted ethical standards. If WRG were to ask Richard Cook to work on a planned community project that he may have overseen while working for the county, then it would reflect poorly on the firm’s reputation – a reputation that they count on to secure future work.

    I saw no eyebrows being lifted when WRG hired former Boise City Councilman Jerome Mapp – probably because WRG didn’t hire Mapp to work on any projects within his former oversight. I don’t see why anyone would think the firm would change its strategy just because Richard Cook was recruited from the county (Cook also used to work for Boise City’s Planning & Development Department). I’ll be the first one to eat my words if Cook ends up on any WRG planned community design team – but I don’t think I have to worry.

    Ms. Baird Spencer should also know that her utopian vision of every public planning agency requiring AICP-certified planners would severly limit local governments from hiring qualified staff. Many of the certified local planners began their planning careers in the public sector before sitting for the AICP exam. And there are still local planners who received their AICP certification as a complimentary “gift” upon paying their American Planning Association dues (no testing was required). Until this older generation of planners retires – the AICP certification really means nothing, and requiring certification cannot be looked upon as a way to safe-guard the public’s interest.

    The inside joke of the planning profession is that AICP really stands for – Any Idiot Can Plan.

  7. Perched Eagle
    Aug 26, 2008, 12:37 pm

    Curious George’s comments reflect more understanding of the situation at hand. Richard would likely not be tasked with any direct presenting to a Commission or Council body by WRG. He might be involved in due diligence or design of a project, but that would likely be the extent of involvement. Having worked with Richard, I have no reason to believe that he would ever intentionally or knowingly put himself or allow himself to be placed into a predicament that would be clearly unethical.

    The AICP certification is also not a determinant, necessarily, that someone in the zoning (day to day administration), or planning, field is good at their job, at being fair, just, equitable etc. nor does it reflect their on the job experience or ability to work well with the public (though I would argue in the end it is more helpful than wasteful CG).

    While there are issues in the work force (any work force) that people looking for skeleton’s in closets can point to with concern, in the circles where I work it is usually the conspiracy theorists that drum up baloney — since they are not really there in meetings, involved in discussions, not a part of a department staff etc. I see in the above posts one (seemingly) such person’s comments.

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