Planning Ethics: Lessons from 2021
Ethical issues involving members of the American Institute of Certified Planners are handled by the AICP Ethics Officer and the AICP Ethics Committee. A formal annual report on the activities of the committee is required by the AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct (section C5b).
The biggest news last year — at least in the realm of planning ethics — was the AICP Commission's approval of a revised AICP Code of Ethics, which went into effect January 1, 2022.
Much of the initial work of this two-year-long revision process was done by the AICP Code Update Task Force, which included members of the AICP Ethics Committee. More details can be found here and here.
Planning Ethics Activities
In addition to the code update, other planning ethics activities from 2021 are summarized in the Annual Ethics Report. This includes the following:
There were a total of 28 misconduct complaints and 154 informal inquiries in 2021 — both the highest numbers in recent memory. This uptick in inquiries and cases may be partially related to the increased publicity from the AICP ethics code update process, as well as discussions of the informal inquiries at ethics-CM presentations.
Seventeen of last year's misconduct complaints were dismissed following an investigation by the AICP Ethics Officer. In most cases (12 of 17), those complaints did not even warrant a preliminary charge of misconduct, as many were filed by members of the public who were simply "dissatisfied with the results of the planning process" — and not due to the specific conduct of the certified planner.
Five cases involved the misuse of the AICP credential by individuals who were no longer members of AICP. In all but one of those cases (see below), the planners agreed in writing to stop using the credential.
However, five misconduct cases did result in a disciplinary action:
- A planning consultant (FAICP) received a "Confidential Letter of Admonition" for plagiarism involving another community's planning document.
- A local government planner (FAICP) received a "Public Letter of Admonition" for claiming credit, in their professional resume, for work done by other planners.
- A local government planner (AICP) received an indefinite "Suspension" for sending derogatory text messages regarding a city council member and a member of the public to a plan commission member. (The planner had received a one-year suspension in 2020 for a similar offense involving emails and social media posts.)
- A local government planner's AICP certification was "Revoked" for working two fulltime public jobs without having notified either of their employers of this situation. (The planner, who was terminated from both jobs, also is under criminal investigation by one of the communities.) Note: a planner whose certification is revoked may petition the AICP Ethics Committee for reinstatement after five years.
- A planning consultant's AICP/FAICP certification was permanently "Revoked" after the consultant repeatedly refused to remove those credentials from their LinkedIn site. The planner's credentials had been revoked in 2017 following their conviction for a "serious crime."
The vast majority (114 of 154) of last year's requests for informal advice came from certified planners. The remaining requests came from members of the public (25), non-AICP planners (12), and other public officials (3).
The most common ethical issues from the inquiries are listed in the Annual Ethics Report. However, the most-frequently referred to Rule of Conduct was Rule 18 (outside employment), closely followed by Rule 1 (accurate information), Rule 13 (confidential information), and Rule 19 (changed positions).
Ethics Planning Issues
If you have a planning ethics issue, please contact the AICP Ethics Officer to:
- Seek informal advice on an ethics matter, leave a confidential voice mail message at 312-786-6360.
- File a misconduct complaint against an AICP member, visit www.planning.org/ethics for more information and fill out an ethical misconduct form.
- Report someone whom you believe is misrepresenting themselves as an AICP member, send a confidential email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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