Featured Partnership - PMPEI
Posted: January 27, 2010
It was’t because he knew the new planner or even that he knew the fellow would do a good job because of his training in planning. The joy, Lembeck says, was mostly because the appointing board had chosen someone with training.
“It was a vote of confidence on the part of the appointing body,” he says of the Master Planner education offered by his Pennsylvania Municipal Planning Education Institute. “Their message was, ‘This is important.’”
PMPEI, around since 1992, began as a partnership and continues to thrive because of partnerships that run the gamut from statewide groups to tiny local municipalities. "It goes pretty deep," says Lembeck, professor emeritus of rural sociology and founding father of PMPEI.
In the beginning it was a three-way partnership between Penn State Cooperative Extension, the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Planning Association and the state Department of Community Affairs, the predecessor agency of today’s Department of Community and Economic Development, Lembeck says. As years passed, the state dropped out of the partnership and the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs became an associate. But the goal of providing training for municipal volunteers remains unchanged.
Partner groups that sponsor courses can be found in many places, including Berks and Chester counties, which offer the Master Planner certification program, which includes three courses over two years.
Partners that sponsor training for Master Planner certification include Chester County 2020 Foundation, Chester County Planning Commission and West Chester University. Participants include appointees to local municipal and county planning boards.
Programs that offer open enrollment are rare, Lembeck says, explaining that the most important partnering occurs with local groups that sponsor courses. Coalitions of local groups in Cambria and Montgomery counties have sponsored training.
The job of training officials is a big one that is best accomplished through partnerships, according to PMPEI’s web site, which says 10,000 Pennsylvanians serve on 1,700 municipal and county planning commissions. Up to 7,000 more serve on zoning hearing boards or are involved in the day-to-day administration of some 1,600 municipal zoning ordinances.
Usually they are volunteers and often they have no training at the time they are appointed.
Alex Graziani appreciates their dedication but firmly believes that anyone who is going to make decisions that have expansive and expensive impacts should have the training to do it well.
Making sure that the training is available and affordable for public officials is something he does on a regular basis as a Penn State Cooperative Extension educator in the offices of the Smart Growth Partnership of Westmoreland County.
The word “partner” is one that means a lot in his line of work, whether he’s partnering with a bigger agency to deliver educational programming or a tiny municipality that’s willing to become a partner in sponsoring training for its officials.
A key partner in his corner of the state is the Local Government Academy, founded and based in Pittsburgh, Allegheny County. It is an independent non-partisan organization that promotes excellence in local government, according to its web site. Its goals include developing effective local leaders; educating public officials, employees and citizens; and building collaborations and partnerships. Current topics of interest for LGA are sustainable development, purchasing power, zoning and professional police operations.
Through the urging of Smart Growth Partnership, Penn State Cooperative Extension and PMPEI, Local Government Academy has expanded its services to the entire southwestern portion of the state. When classes were held in Pittsburgh, time was an issue, especially when all-day Saturday classes were offered, Graziani says. But recently he spoke of a course held right in Westmoreland County that dealt with issues such as police safety, land use planning, human resources, contracts and ethics.
Education can be costly, Graziani says. But when it comes to the courses offered through the various partnerships, many presenters step up and offer their services at no cost, greatly reducing the expense.
One project on Lembeck’s mind for the future is required certification for planning and zoning officials so that they are qualified to handle life-impacting decisions. But that, too, will mean partnering.
He acknowledges that it could be a burden on volunteers but modern technology could soften the blow. He says groups, including PMPEI and the state chapter of the American Planning Association are crafting a proposal they hope will catch the eye of a state legislator who could introduce it to the General Assembly.
by Linda Hudkins