ETHICS: What is that? And how do you train for it?

Article compiled by Amber Vogt, Lawrence County Planning & Zoning Director and South Dakota Planners Association Representative on The Western Planner Board

In all aspects of our lives, we deal with ethical decisions. Decisions that can affect us personally and professionally. Decisions that may lead us to the top or take us to the bottom. Decisions that are good and bad.
So how is ethics defined, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: rules of behavior based on ideas about what is morally good and bad: an area of study that deals with ideas about what is good and bad behavior: a branch of philosophy dealing with what is morally right or wrong: a belief that something is very important; all define ethics.
Now type the word ethics into Google…be prepared for an onslaught of information, you can find lots of cool images to depict the word ethics, but it is very tough to find the same view in every link you click on. This means we all look at ethics differently, many people say, “well……. it depends……on……..”
As planners in this ever changing climate of ethics we all have something in common, something that has been laid out for each of us to review, work for and be cohesive in our actions. The American Planning Association adopted the AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct in March of 2005 and it took effect in June of 2005, almost 10 years ago. The same four basic sections still exist and are used today. Visit the specifics at Here is an insert from the website that gives a very brief overview.
We, professional planners, who are members of the American Institute of Certified Planners, subscribe to our Institute’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. Our Code is divided into four sections:

  • Section A contains a statement of aspirational principles that constitute the ideals to which we are committed. We shall strive to act in accordance with our stated principles. However, an allegation that we failed to achieve our aspirational principles cannot be the subject of a misconduct charge or be a cause for disciplinary action.
  • Section B contains rules of conduct to which we are held accountable. If we violate any of these rules, we can be the object of a charge of misconduct and shall have the responsibility of responding to and cooperating with the investigation and enforcement procedures. If we are found to be blameworthy by the AICP Ethics Committee, we shall be subject to the imposition of sanctions that may include loss of our certification.
  • Section C contains the procedural provisions of the Code. It (1) describes the way that one may obtain either a formal or informal advisory ruling, and (2) details how a charge of misconduct can be filed, and how charges are investigated, prosecuted, and adjudicated.
  • Section D contains procedural provisions that govern situations in which a planner is convicted of a serious crime.

This very brief overview of ethics and what it means to planners is something that is becoming more and more apparent in our communities. As part of this, The Western Planner wants to make sure our readers know that there numerous planners within our communities who can help with providing education on ethics and how it pertains to citizens, planners, planning boards and commissions. Here is a very small list of people in our regions who can currently offer their services with a very brief bio of their offerings. Please contact any of them to help you and your community become more aware of ethical dilemmas that take place every day and how to prepare for those situations. Keep in mind there is no way we can cover every single person that may be qualified to speak or teach on ethics, these are just a few of those we have heard from over the years or we know have strong ties to The Western Planner.

Graham S. Billingsley, FAICP

Partner, Orion Planning Group
1176 Quince Avenue
Boulder, CO 80304
Graham has significant experience covering more than 35 years of practice. Educated in planning, landscape architecture, and architecture, and having practiced in all three fields, he is able to develop solutions that are practical and innovative, designed to solve the problem specifically for the community. Graham has developed land use codes, conducted studies or projects in comprehensive planning, housing, economic development, downtown revitalization, demographic and economic analysis, opinion surveying, landscape architecture, architecture, historic preservation, urban design, process management, and has acted as an expert witness in numerous legal cases.

Joanne Garnett, FAICP

Partner, Orion Planning Group
306 N. Main – 2nd Floor
Sheridan, WY 82801
Joanne has over 30 years of professional planning experience in the public and private sector with experience relating to urban, rural, and regional planning issues. She has specialized in assisting local governments with short term and targeted planning needs including review and consolidation of planning documents into strategic, implementable executive summaries; guidance and advice to local governments in ongoing planning activities; comprehensive plan development assistance; land use plans; and public outreach support. She is a past president of both American Institute of Certified Planners and the American Planning Association and served the planning profession in many other roles at the local, chapter and national levels. Joanne routinely speaks and national, regional and state planning conferences and provides planning commissioner training seminars.

Katie Guthrie, AICP

Health Planner
CanDo Loveland
Katie, is a Health Planner and Built Environment Coordinator for CanDo Loveland. Her work includes neighborhood engagement and citizen advocacy around the built environment, healthy community design and HEAL strategies. She also provides technical assistance for health policy to the City of Loveland. She previously served as Administrator for the Colorado Chapter of the American Planning Association where she led Program Development and Professional Training. Prior to that, Katie worked for over ten years as a community planner in the public sector at local, county and regional levels. Her experience includes site design, development review and environmental compliance. Katie graduated cum laude from Cal Poly Pomona with a B.S in Urban and Regional Planning and earned her M.S. in Resource Conservation from the School of Forestry at the University of Montana. She has been a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners since 2003.

Diane T. Kushlan, AICP

Principal, Kushlan | Associates
Diane has over 30 years professional planning experience working for public agencies in California, Washington state and Idaho. For the past 13 years she has had a private practice serving Idaho communities and non-profits. Since 2004, she has been a professional development officer first for the Western Central Chapter and now the Idaho Chapter of APA. She has provided ethics training to the chapters at numerous state conferences. In addition she has given training to city and county planning and zoning commissions and taught planning classes at Boise State University.

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