Form-based code education


Understandably and with good reason, getting anything done in government takes time. Due diligence is important.

However, the citizen commissions (and more, but let’s start small) meant to guide city council fall short. Take the planning commission, for example.

On their agendas for months has been form-based code (FBC). People have spoken in support of it, including Ed Legault of the Economic Development Authority.

It is entirely possible that FBCs might not end up working in Escanaba, so some have suggested testing it in just a small area at first, which has worked successfully in communities across the country. Unfortunately, not many planning commissioners have so far bothered to learn about it.

In March, when the subject came before commissioners, some said they didn’t yet feel familiar enough with the subject to act. A week prior to the meeting, they had been presented with a document entitled “Why Form-Based Code?”

Commissioner Nelson shared that she had actually already taken a course about FBCs and found it useful. The other commissioners expressed interest, so a link was shared. It is unclear whether that interest was feigned, or genuine but immediately forgotten.

For April’s meeting, more scholarly pages on FBCs were distributed. Hardly any “discussion” took place, so it’s anybody’s guess whether anyone on that bleeping commission so much as glanced at them. And nobody had begun the course.

This board is being spoon-fed, and still can’t do the work. Since the newbies have largely been unable to formulate language, the admin has begun listing possible courses of action, even giving sample language (sample! meaning examples of how a suggestion of a resolution could possibly be worded), and a commissioner ends up reciting it verbatim.

All commissioners agreed they should become educated on FBC; after all, this online course Nelson took is at one’s own pace. They finally chose to set their completion date for the eight-hour program, which can be done in segments, at one year from now.

It’s like a fourth-grader coming to class not having done his assignment, and instead of agreeing to do it ASAP, says, ‘I’ll do it by the 5th grade.’

Not everyone is failing. Some are, respectably, trying to educate themselves. But those few informed people need to have the confidence to step up. Otherwise, commissions are useless; we stagnate. And there’s over a dozen such citizen boards in Escanaba charged with being able to advise city council, after doing the legwork in their own areas, whether it be harbor, recreation, environment, etc.


1. At the very least, anyone who sits on any commission should read Robert’s Rules of Order, or at least a cheat sheet of the “Top Ten Most Common Violations.”

2. Also at minimum, they should review the agenda packet that is given to them in advance of each meeting.

It’s very possible that some of these people are capable. If that’s the case, they should demonstrate it at meetings. It’s the only way our city can improve.

Jamie Levin



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