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Rolling Up Our Sleeves: The Nitty Gritty Work of Plan Commissions


Rolling Up Our Sleeves: The Nitty Gritty Work of Plan Commissions Tuesday, May 1, 2007 Boone County Fairgrounds K.K. Gerhart-Fritz, AICP What is planning? – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Rolling Up Our Sleeves: The Nitty Gritty Work of Plan Commissions

Rolling Up Our Sleeves The Nitty Gritty Work of
Plan Commissions
  • Tuesday, May 1, 2007
  • Boone County Fairgrounds
  • K.K. Gerhart-Fritz, AICP

What is planning?
  • Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary
  • Plan (the noun) "a method for achieving an end.
    A goal .. A detailed formulation of a program of
    action. an orderly arrangement of parts of an
    overall design or objective"
  • Plan (the verb) "to devise or project the
    realization or achievement of . To arrange the
    parts of. To have in mind or intend"

What is planning?
  • Multiple choice -- raise your hand
  • Planning is
  • a) A process
  • b) A product
  • c) Both

A Process and a Product...
  • The planning process can be just as important as
    the final plan document, if not more so!
  • Why do you think this is true?

Why do you plan?
  • Brainstorm some personal reasons why you do what
    you do -- it is okay if your reasons differ from

Why Plan?
  • Its about being PROACTIVE, instead of REACTIVE!
  • If planners dont plan, other groups will do it
    for you!
  • Each of you may have a different reason for
    planning -- thats okay!
  • The bottom line is that Plannings Fundamental
    Goal is to improve our community.

Why Plan -- Good Times
  • Manage growth
  • Plan for prosperity, more growth
  • Make sure there are adequate resources

Why Plan -- Bad Times
  • Plan to use scarce resources wisely
  • Cant afford not to!

It all boils down to one thing...
  • Planning's Fundamental Goal is to improve our

Philosophy of Planning
  • One of the reasons communities plan is to ensure
    that the needs of the whole community are
    considered, not just benefits to individuals.
  • Community planning is based upon a concept of the
    public interest.
  • Some flexibility in the use of individual land is
    given up in exchange for creating a community in
    which the interests of all are considered.

Planning Policymakers
  • As public officials, you are trustees of the
    future, and have a responsibility to help prevent
    growth patterns that result in wasteful and
    inefficient use of public resources.
  • When communities plan, they establish and
    implement a public policy for the community.
    They create a guideline for decisions on

Comprehensive Plans
  • Long-range (20 years)
  • Covers entire jurisdiction (and maybe more)
  • Traditionally addresses physical elements

Comprehensive Plans
  • Involves goal-setting
  • Provides context for complex decisions
  • Continuing interactive process

Required Elements
Optional Comp Plan Elements
Indiana Planning Law lt other states
  • Our minimum requirements for a comprehensive plan
    are less complex than in most other states. Our
    law is flexible, so it can be used by large
    cities, small towns, and counties. It is also
    simple, because many Indiana communities do not
    employ trained professional planners and cannot
    afford to hire consultants.

The Basic Planning Process
  • 1. Evaluate existing conditions (strengths
    weaknesses, demographics, natural features, etc.)
  • 2. Establish a vision, goals and objectives
  • 3. Identify alternatives for achieving that
  • 4. Select the most desirable alternative
  • 5. Devise and adopt tools to implement the plan
    (zoning, subdivision control, capital improvement
    programming, etc.)
  • 6. Evaluate the success of the plan
  • 7. Revise the plan

Who Does the Planning?
  • In Indiana, it is the plan commissions
    responsibility to prepare and adopt a plan and to
    recommend it to the city or town council or
    county commissioners for adoption.
  • The plan commission may be assisted by staff, by
    consultants, by volunteers, or by any combination.

No Planning gt No Zoning
  • Indiana Planning Law prohibits communities from
    regulating development with zoning if they have
    not first engaged in comprehensive planning.

Comprehensive Plan Hierarchy
  • There is a hierarchy of written plan elements,
    from general (vision) to detailed (objective).

Vision Statement
  • A vision is a statement that reflects local
    potential and makes a commitment to future
    action. A vision generally describes what the
    community wants to be. It should be clear,
    succinct and purposeful. It should be a
    statement that everyone generally agrees with.

Hendricks Countys Vision Statement
  • A goal is a concise statement that describes in
    general terms, a desired future condition.
  • Goals are often organized by plan topics, such as
    Agriculture, Growth Management, Housing,
    Environment, Transportation, Economic Development
    and Parks Recreation

Hendricks County Goal Example
  • Goal 2.1 Coordinate planning efforts county-wide.

Hendricks County Objective Example
  • 3. Encourage compatible infrastructure standards
    for ease of transition between communities.

Comprehensive Plan Format
  • No minimum or maximum size
  • the community that did a one-page plan (identity
    kept secret to protect them) -- not enough!
  • Quality, not quantity! There are no extra points
    for size, so produce a short, concise, and easily
    read plan. Extra incentive Indiana law requires
    the plan to be recorded and you may need to pay
    by the page!

Comprehensive Plan Format
  • To map or not to map?
  • Most plans contain maps showing future streets,
    desired future land use patterns, and areas
    set-aside for parks and open space. It is
    important to note, however, that these maps are
    not required in Indiana.
  • Maps offer more guidance to plan commission

Hendricks Countys Future Land Use Plan
Hendricks Countys Transportation Plan
Hendricks Countys Trails Greenways Map
Comprehensive Plan Format
  • Can be flexible (better) or rigid
  • Map Issues The problem with using GIS
    parcel-specific maps Does it matter if it is on
    the NW corner or the SE corner?
  • It is more important to establish the principle
    that a school should be located in a certain area
    than to designate the specific site for the
    school. Locations should be approximate, not

Form of the Comprehensive Plan
  • Know who will be using it
  • Elected officials
  • Plan Commission and BZA
  • Citizens
  • Developers

Form of the Comprehensive Plan
  • Make it user-friendly! -- Organization
  • Make use of appendices
  • Include a summary

Hendricks County -- Summary of Plan Issues
Form of the Comprehensive Plan
  • Make it user-friendly -- Use Illustrations

Form of the Comprehensive Plan
  • Make it user-friendly -- Use Examples

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Form of the Comprehensive Plan
  • Make it user-friendly -- Use Plain English
  • No planning jargon (unless it is explained right
  • Dont make it sound like an attorney wrote it

Youre unique -- just like everyone else...
Plans help a community achieve a character of its
own, one that residents of the community
recognize and support.
Cant we just use someone elses plan?
Its not over when its over...
  • These steps are part of a continuing process.
    Plans must be evaluated, changed and updated as
    the community changes. These changes can be
    gradual (demographic trends, technological
    change, or slow economic growth or decline) or
    sudden (location of a LULU, loss of a major
    employer, or a natural disaster)

Planning Rules
  • Participatory

Rule 1 -- Invite everyone to the table
(especially the difficult folks)! Citizens need
to feel ownership for plan to succeed.
Planning Rules
  • Engaging/Involving

Rule 2 -- The process is just as important as
the final product (the plan).
Planning Rules
  • Democratic

Rule 3 -- Everyone needs to be represented (make
sure your steering committee reflects your
community). Dont confuse getting a community
consensus with a show of hands at a public
Planning Rules
  • Stewards Resources

Rule 4 -- Educate citizens on what the issues
and impacts are, so they can make wise decisions.
Implementation Tools
  • one of the 2 major implementation tools for your
    comprehensive plan -- What is the other one?
  • the basic way that your community can control how
    land is developed

Raise your hands...
  • I want my neighbor to start up a junkyard
  • a)yes
  • b)no
  • c)unsure

The "Z" Word
  • The division of a municipality or county into
    districts for the purpose of regulating the use
    of _________ land.
  • a) government owned
  • b) private
  • c) undeveloped
  • d) all

Why we have Zoning
  • The principle objective of zoning was to ensure
    that commercial and industrial development was
    segregated from residential areas. Is that still

Zoning Quiz
  • Zoning is an expression of ____ power.
  • a)fire
  • b)police
  • c) super
  • The concept of zoning came to the USA from
  • a)Pre-WWI Germany
  • b)Communist Russia
  • c)Mars

Feel the Power...
  • Zoning has the power to regulate activity by
    private persons for the health, safety, morals
    and general welfare of the public. That power is
    delegated to the state by the federal system, and
    local governments only have that power when it is
    delegated by the state ("enabling legislation").
    The U.S, Supreme Court has upheld zoning as a
    valid use of police power.

IN the Zone
  • Indiana's enabling legislation says when a
    legislative body adopts a zoning ordinance, it
    shall be for the purposes of
  • securing adequate light, air, convenience of
    access, and safety from fire, flood, and other
  • lessening or avoiding congestion in public ways
  • promoting the public health, safety, comfort,
    morals, convenience, and general welfare and
  • otherwise accomplishing the purposes of the law

How it Works
  • The text of the zoning ordinance specifies the
    permitted uses and developmental standards
    (building size regulations, setbacks, parking
    standards, etc.) for each zoning district
  • While maps in a comp plan are optional, they
    arent for zoning. Indiana law requires a map,
    showing the districts into which the jurisdiction
    is divided.

Know Your Zones
  • "Common zones within a planning department
    include demilitarized (DMZ), erogenous, and
  • From the Plannerese Dictionary by Ric Stephens
  • How many zones do you have?
  • Columbus has 41 zoning districts
  • Bartholomew County has 15 zoning districts

IC 36-7-4-603 Rezoning Criteria
  • The plan commission and the legislative body
    shall pay reasonable regard to
  • (1) the comprehensive plan
  • (2) current conditions and the character of
    current structures and uses in each district
  • (3) the most desirable use for which the land in
    each district is adapted
  • (4) the conservation of property values
    throughout the jurisdiction and
  • (5) responsible development and growth.

Rezoning Process
  • The plan commission holds a public hearing and
    makes a recommendation to the legislative body
  • The legislative body (county commissioners or
    town/city council) makes the final decision
  • Rezoning can be initiated by local government or
    property owner

Updating the Zoning Ordinance?
  • Immediately after adopting a new comprehensive
    plan -- why?
  • To address new land uses
  • If your BZA has a record of granting certain
    variances repeatedly
  • Other examples?
  • When it's not needed, zoning works fine when it
    is essential, it always breaks down.
  • -McClaughry's Iron Law of Zoning

  • Relief valve for zoning ordinance
  • Two types
  • Variances from developmental standards
  • Use variances (not available to area plan

Which one are you?
  • BZA members often fall into two extreme camps
  • those that believe that variances should never be
    granted because everyone should play by the same
  • those who have listened to attorneys for the
    petitioner tell them that it is the BZA's job to
    grant variances!
  • A happy medium is the best attitude variances
    should be granted, but only when warranted.

Developmental Standards Variance Criteria per IC
  • (1) the approval will not be injurious to the
    public health, safety, morals, and general
    welfare of the community
  • (2) the use and value of the area adjacent to the
    property included in the variance will not be
    affected in a substantially adverse manner
  • (3) the strict application of the terms of the
    zoning ordinance will result in practical
    difficulties in the use of the property

Use Variance Criteria per IC 36-7-4-918.4
  • (1) the approval will not be injurious to the
    public health, safety, morals, and general
    welfare of the community
  • (2) the use and value of the area adjacent to the
    property included in the variance will not be
    affected in a substantially adverse manner
  • (3) the need for the variance arises from some
    condition peculiar to the property involved

Use Variance Criteria per IC 36-7-4-918.4
  • (4) the strict application of the terms of the
    zoning ordinance will constitute an unnecessary
    hardship if applied to the property for which the
    variance is sought
  • (5) the approval doesn't interfere substantially
    with the adopted comprehensive plan

Variance Cautions
  • Dont grant unless all criteria are met
  • Dont allow to be used as a backdoor rezoning
  • Make your local developmental standards criteria
    more restrictive -- getting a variance should not
    be easy
  • Consider defining some of the terms

Additional Criteria
What does it mean?
  • Monroe County's BZA defines practical
  • Significant economic injury that
  • (A) Arises from the strict application of the
    Zoning Ordinance to the conditions of a
    particular, existing parcel of property
  • (B) Is not as significant as the injury
    associated with hardship, that is, it does not
    deprive the parcel owner of all reasonable
    economic use of the parcel and
  • (C) Is clearly more significant than compliance
  • They also defined unnecessary hardship

The Subdivision Control Ordinance
  • One of the 2 major implementation tools for your
    comprehensive plan -- What is the other one?
  • a basic way that your community can control how
    growth occurs

Raise your Hand
  • I want my community to grow in a ____________
  • a)orderly
  • b)chaotic
  • Subdivision regulations have the most impact in
    areas that are undeveloped.

SCO Insures Orderly Growth
  • IC 36-7-4-702 says the subdivision control
    ordinance must specify standards, specifically
  • (1) minimum width, depth, and lot area
  • (2) public way widths, grades, curves, and the
    coordination of subdivision public ways with
    current and planned public ways and
  • (3) the extension of water, sewer, and other
    municipal services.

Other Standards
  • State law says the subdivision control ordinance
    may also include standards for
  • the allocation of areas to be used as public
    ways, parks, schools, public and semipublic
    buildings, homes, businesses, and utilities
  • any other standards related to the purposes of
    that chapter of Indiana law

What is a subdivision plat?
  • Communities define differently
  • In some places every parcel split is a
    subdivision and must go through the process, in
    others, there are exceptions to the subdivision
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of
    allowing these exceptions? What does your
    community do?

Types of Subdivisions
  • Major -- usually a lot number threshold and
    public infrastructure extensions (i.e., roads,
  • Minor -- typically approved by a plat committee

What is a Conservation Subdivision?
What does a Conservation Subdivision look like?
The Subdivision Process
  • Plan Commission makes final decision (no trip to
    legislative body except for right-of-way
  • May delegate authority to a plat committee
  • Typically review and recommendation from a
    technical committee

Subdivision Criteria
  • Each community may set own standards -- take
    advantage of this!
  • Make sure ordinance says standards are minimums

Making a Decision
  • What are relevant issues in a subdivision
  • Previous and future uses, street standards,
    street patterns, traffic, sidewalks, drainage,
    flooding, soil conditions, topography, lighting,
    provision of services, lot layout, street names,
    easements, utilities.

Making a Decision
  • What isn't appropriate in a subdivision hearing?
  • Sentiment (children playing ball on it now,
    losing your pretty view), emotions (don't like
    the applicant), rehashing the past, subjectivity

Subdivisions arent Subjective
  • If a proposed subdivision plat meets all the
    ordinance standards, the plat must be given
    primary approval

Modifying Subdivision Regulations
  • You can set up a process in your SCO to waive
    standards. Set some criteria -- examples
  • Not detrimental to public health, safety,
  • Adjacent property not be adversely affected
  • Justified because of exceptional topographic or
    physical conditions unique to property (not
    inconvenience or financial hardship)
  • Consistent with intent of ordinances and the
    comprehensive plan
  • Condition necessitating the modification was not
    created by owner or applicant

Findings of Fact
  • IC 36-7-4-707 requires the plan commission or
    plat committee to make written findings for
    either an approval or denial of a plat. For a
    denial of a plat, the findings must set forth
    your reasons for that denial.

Growth Management
  • True or False
  • No one in Indiana is doing growth management --
    that all happens in Florida, California and
    communist countries...

Avons Growth Management Plan
  • Priority Growth Area Infill Development
  • Infill development areas are self-expanding,
    based on the following criteria
  • 3. Road system with a level of service (LOS) of C
    or above. Level of Service is a rating system
    used by traffic engineers to describe operational
    conditions along a segment of road.

Other Indiana Attempts
  • Winfields Growth Management Plan
  • Zionsvilles Permit limits

Open Space
  • Everybody likes this!
  • Preserving open space tends to be top priority
    for Indiana communities -- typically a big goal
    in the comp plan

How do we get Open Space?
  • Zoning District standards
  • what qualifies as open space?
  • Conservation Subdivisions
  • Impact Fees
  • Does it matter if the open space is public or
    private? Why or Why not?

Legal Issues
Running a Meeting
  • Months of effort (and a good plan) can be lost in
    a few minutes if the public hearing gets out of

Your Responsibilities
  • 1)To represent the rest of the community.
  • How does the community give you direction (2
  • 2)To educate yourself and others on the issue(s).
  • 3)To support the process and recognize the roles
    of the other participants.
  • 4)To make a defensible decision.

What's a plan commissioner to do?
  • Which are not plan commission duties listed under
    IC 36-7-4-405?
  • Loading up on sugar and caffeine before the
  • Turning off your cell phone during the public
  • Reading all staff reports.
  • Visiting the site in person.
  • Not snoring in the wee hours if a case is still
    being heard.
  • Making an annual report to the legislative body.
  • Note while none of the above are actually listed
    in the Indiana Code, they are all still good

Indiana Law Plan Commission Duties
  • Preparing a comprehensive plan
  • Preparing a zoning ordinance and a subdivision
    control ordinance
  • Making recommendations to the legislative body on
    proposals to amend the text of the zoning
    ordinance or subdivision control ordinance.
  • Making recommendations to the legislative body on
    proposals to amend the zoning map (rezonings).
  • Approving or denying proposals to subdivide land
    based upon compliance with the subdivision
    control ordinance.
  • Approving development plans.
  • Assigning street addresses.

Top 10 reasons to be a plan commission
member 10)There is no initiation fee for this
club 9) Don't have to wear a fez at planning
conventions 8) Free take-home scrap paper after
every meeting 7) You want to prove Hoosiers can
count ballots better than those Florida plan
commissions 6) The secret handshake 5) You help
economy by keeping lawyers working 4) The
optometrist says you have "20/20 vision" 3)
You're waiting for a Hollywood producer to spot
you on the local cable access channel 2)
Secretly hoping they'll name a zoning district
after you 1)All the perks
Taking Care of Business
  • Indiana law requires the plan commission to do
    the following to carry out its function
  • Adopt rules for the operation of the commission.
  • Keep a complete record of proceedings.
  • Adopt a seal.
  • Assume responsibility for maintaining files and
  • Certify all official acts.
  • Staff may handle many of the administrative

Breaking All the Rules?
  • Indiana law requires every plan commission to
    adopt rules of procedure.
  • Have you seen your rules lately?

Whats Typically Covered in Rules?
  • Meeting times and Duties of officers and staff
  • Establishment of committees
  • Order of business
  • Application procedures (deadlines, fees, etc.)
  • Definition of interested parties
  • Notice requirements
  • Hearing procedures
  • Time limits on testimony
  • Continuances
  • Conflicts of interest
  • Communications outside of meetings
  • Decisions
  • Commitments and conditions
  • Amendments
  • Suspension of rules

Public Meeting vs. Public Hearing
  • A public meeting is simply a meeting that is open
    to the public the public may attend and observe,
    but the audience does not have to be allowed to
    participate or make comments.
  • A public hearing is a formal proceeding to
    receive public comment on a particular matter,
    such as a rezoning or a comprehensive plan.

A Word about Public Hearings.
  • Legal requirement and obligation to your citizens
  • Not an ideal forum for communication -- more
    formal and structured than a public meeting
  • Public hearings specified by law may not be
    enough -- we aren't just trying to meet the
    minimum legal standards
  • Purpose is to hear testimony -- not a forum for
    public debate.
  • If you do it right, you can also use a public
    hearing for education and to gain support for the
  • If you desire dialogue, discussion or
    negotiation, schedule a public meeting first

Meeting Time
  • Traditionally evening meetings -- does this still
    make sense?
  • Make it a regular meeting time, but be flexible
    enough to change the time in a particular
    situation, or to hold more than one meeting on
    the same topic to give ample opportunity for all
    those who want to participate.

Meeting Place
  • A suitable meeting room will be conveniently
    located, accessible to persons with disabilities,
    large enough, and will have good acoustics.
  • The commission may occasionally need to change
    the regular meeting place to accommodate an
    exceptionally large crowd.

Chairing the Meeting
Typical PC Presidents Routine
  • Welcome and introduction of body
  • Explain purpose of meeting and ground rules
    Explain what is on the agenda and how the meeting
    will work (time limits, etc.) -- warn them about
    any continuances
  • Deliver a "play by play" or translation for the
    audience, when necessary ("that ends the
    applicant's presentation, now he can only respond
    to questions") and repeat/rephrase all questions
  • Keep control of the meeting -- be firm when
    necessary and make sure all remarks go through
    you (not between opponents and proponents).

Role of Members at the Meeting
  • Be familiar with the material -- don't open your
    packet at the meeting
  • Have a public discussion -- don't pass notes or
  • Explain yourself -- why are you voting this way?
  • Make sure your input is meaningful

Quiz Do your Meetings have Meaning?
  • Are you so comfortable that you have become
  • Has the hectic pace caused you to lose sight of
    your purpose?
  • Are you overwhelmed by choices and without
  • Have you gotten too big for your britches?
  • Does your leadership inspire you?
  • Are you afraid to say something that might rock
    the boat?
  • Are you just plain tired?

Meeting and Hearing Conduct
  • The commission should display and demand good
    manners. The president should discuss this
    behavior as part of the opening remarks
  • Address all comments and questions to the Plan
    Commission President
  • Address everyone with title of respect (Mr. Ms.
  • Use a polite business like tone and manner (no
    yelling, smirking, eye rolling, etc.)
  • No side conversations or whispering by anyone
  • No personal attacks
  • No threats
  • No applause (its distracting and intimidating)

  • Don't be difficult yourself
  • Don't act like a big shot
  • Don't be more formal than necessary -- try to put
    people at ease
  • Treat others the way you want to be treated (the
    golden rule)
  • No preconceptions -- really listen, then form
    your opinion
  • Never forget that you have an audience!

Public Comment
  • Public hearings should be formally opened and
    closed, and no public comment should be taken at
    any time other than during the hearing
  • The president should be empowered to cut off
    lengthy, irrelevant or repetitive comments --
    rules can set a time limit or provide the
    authority to impose time limits when necessary

To Sign-In or Not to Sign-In
  • Sign-in sheets eliminate the feeding-frenzy
    approach to public meetings, where people become
    agitated by a comment made by someone else and
    then rise to speak.
  • Testimony is usually more relevant and thought
    through if speakers sign up in advance.
  • Sign-in sheets also provide a record of

Decision-Making Concerns
  • After a public hearing is concluded, the plan
    commission must arrive at a decision or
    recommendation. The issues often are complicated,
    and decision-making is likewise difficult.

Decision-Making Concerns
  • Peer Pressure -- Commission members do not want
    to offend their colleagues or appear to be
    unconventional or uncooperative. Commission
    members should be appointed to represent a
    variety of views, and there is no reason why
    decisions should always be unanimous.

Decision-Making Concerns
  • Public Pressure -- It is difficult to make a
    decision unpopular with a room full of people,
    especially in small towns. The audience isnt
    always right it doesnt represent the community
    as a whole. Proposed land use changes generate
    emotional rather than rational responses from
    many people. It is the plan commissions job to
    sort through evidence and testimony and make
    reasoned decisions.

Decision-Making Concerns
  • Developer Business Pressure -- Developers and
    business people represent a particular view,
    aimed at reducing their costs and increasing
    their profits. The community does not have to
    accept inappropriate development in order to
    provide profits for a developer. The commission
    must review proposals on their merits.

Decision-Making Concerns
  • Political Pressure -- Occasionally, elected
    officials will lobby plan commissioners for
    votes. Members appointed or hired by elected
    officials may feel obligated to vote as these
    officials request. Plan commissions are intended
    to be independent bodies, and as a matter of
    personal ethics and conscience, commission
    members are obligated to cast votes that in their
    judgment promote good planning.

Decision-Making Concerns
  • Compromise -- Plan commissioners want to find a
    middle position between developers and opponents.
    However, compromise can leave everyone unhappy
    when neither side gets what it wants. Developers
    quickly learn the compromise game, so they ask
    for more than they want or expect, in order to
    end up with the project they initially desired.
    Compromise is not bad if the commission can
    broker a win-win solution, but regular compromise
    won't result in good development.

Decision-Making Concerns
  • Outside influences -- Members interact with
    people in their daily lives who wish to influence
    the commission members opinion or vote on a
    proposal. It is good practice to refrain from
    such discussions, because they interfere with due
    process and are inconsistent with the goals of
    the open meeting law. If contact can't be
    avoided, explain that it will be reported at the
    public meeting. If these conversations aren't
    reported, commission members cast their votes
    based on different information.

  • Indiana law provides that plan commission actions
    are official only if carried by a majority of all
    of the members of the commission, regardless of
    how many members are present.
  • Don't let members abstain from voting in
    controversial cases. Taking the easy way out is
    unfair to the rest of the commission

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