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Watch the 8/25 webinar "Skills Planners Need to be Successful Department Heads"

Updated: Jan 22, 2021

On Tuesday, August 25, 2020 Teska Associates and the APA-IL Chicago Metro Section teamed up to provide a webinar for planners that have become Department Heads and Managers, have recently taken on or expect to be thrust into a more managerial role, or are interested in taking on that role in the future.

These positions can be challenging for planners as little (if any) management training is part of planning school or training from the communities where we work. Second, the municipal department head position is not one for which planners are always naturally molded. Community advocacy, team input, and consensus are foundational to planning, but not the first thing you pull out of your quiver at an everyone for themselves budget meeting where the zoning update is competing against a new fire truck or pavement assessment project.

This panel discussion asked fundamental questions of experienced planning and community development directors. Questions like:

  • How do I manage the budget process?

  • What is a building permit and why am I in charge of them?

  • How can I get along better with all the department heads?

  • What’s the trick to working well with my Village Manager?

  • Am I supposed to talk to ½ the Village Board every day?

  • How can I get the staff to just do the right thing the first time I ask?

The chat during this webinar was full of advice, tips, and questions. Here's a few of the many items that we'd like to share:

Budget Process

  • In the budget process, don't forget to look at the revenue side. Identifying ways to increase revenue is important. If there are fees that have remained static over several years or if your Code dictates a timeframe for updating fees, then they could be presented. Chat with your Village Manager prior to submitting to ensure he/she are on board. Fees can be tricky depending on the stance of your elected officials. Data from neighboring communities can help sell what you're proposing.

  • A webinar attendee said they worked for a community that put all fees into a separate fee ordinance and readopted it every year - the budget process required departments to review and propose updates as part of the annual budget process.


  • Put a tentative hold on your calendar during your most productive hours several times a week. If a meeting needs to be set during those times, it's ok, at least there was an attempt to set aside time for focused work.

  • When dealing with difficult people remember to always act professional. Always be above board and try to communicate via email as much as possible in order to document your interactions.

  • Don't ask staff to do anything that you wouldn't do yourself.

  • Always, ALWAYS, base your answers and advice on the Plan and rules, adopted policies and procedures - not on politics or personal whims.

Staff Development and Coaching

  • NEVER admonish a direct report in front of others. Be gracious, respective, and professional.

  • I always required the planner who was handling the project (a rezoning, say) to be the one who took the photographs to be used in the presentation and to post the hearing notice. It's also good to let them do the presentation on their project to the Planning Commission.

  • Go to the other department meetings. Understand the other sections of the code. It's may be your job to know zoning, but knowing and working with, on a basic level, the public health and safety code, subdivision control, building code is invaluable.

  • At ANY level - learn to write well and make presentations - also to deal with others, both inside and outside the organization

  • One of the great key for a successful staffing plan is train your entry level Planner or Planning Tech on Planning/Code activities and than promote them when time comes for a Associate or Planner II position. Invest in your academy talent rather than hiring someone from outside if possible. This way your newly promoted employee who has code/property maintenance knowledge can train a new hire while working on active Planning projects.

Communications with Commissions and Elected Officials

  • Check with village manager to find out what the preference is regarding communication with trustees/elected officials.

  • "To keep our Council informed, I do a weekly Top 5 list to our Council members in an effort to keep them informed on development meetings, best practice research, current significant resident issues and existing development performance." and one of the panelists had a similar approach "We do a weekly email to the City Council and Planning & Zoning Commission on ongoing development, permits issued, upcoming development applications, etc. This includes updates from all departments and it helps the elected officials communicate with their constituents when questions arise, especially on off-hours or weekends."

To obtain your 1.5 CM credits for watching the live webinar, please click here to be redirected to APA's website.


This event is brought to you by the 2019 APA-IL Tier I Sponsor Teska Associates


Speakers included:

Krysti Barksdale-Noble, AICP – Community Development Director, United City of Yorkville

Urban Planner with over 20 years of progressive responsibility within the non-profit, public and private sectors, currently serving as the Community Development Director for the United City of Yorkville since 2010. Krysti has a Bachelors Degree in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Southern California and is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP). Mrs. Noble’s interest is zoning and zoning law and has testified as an expert witness in Lake County, Illinois trial court. She lives in Plainfield, Illinois with her husband and three (3) children.

Michael Blue, FAICP – Principal, Teska Associates

Since joining Teska in 2013, Michael’s work includes preparing zoning regulations, organizational strategic plans, neighborhood plans, comprehensive plans, development economics, and staff training. Prior to joining Teska Associates, Michael was the Director of Community Development in Highland Park, IL for 11 years. There he

managed a department of 30 staff and focused on long range planning, review and approval of proposed development projects, permit approval, and support of City Council and Commission activities. Michael also worked as Deputy Community Development Director in the Village of Mount Prospect, IL for five years, managing staff in day to day operations related to planning, building permits and code enforcement. Michael started his career as a planning consultant working in the areas of long range land use and policy planning, development land use and economic impacts, and public participation. Michael has been actively involved in the local and national leadership of the American Planning Association and is currently the Planning Officials Development Officer for the IL - APA. Michael has undergraduate and graduate degrees in Urban Planning from the University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign

Ray Lai - Executive Director, Bloomington-Normal Regional Plan Commission

Prior to joined McLean County Regional Planning Commission (MCRPC) as its Executive Director in January 2020, Mr. Lai was serving as the Director of Economic and Community Development for the City of Decatur (IL), leading a 21-member department team, and the Deputy Director of Economic & Community Development for the City of University City (MO). Previously, he worked as an associate/senior planner in Asia for AECOM, a leading U.S.-based global consultancy, and the Director of Planning & Zoning for the City of Edwardsville (IL), after holding professional planning positions with City and County of St. Louis (MO).

Over the years, Raymond has been invited as a guest lecturer/panelist at planning commissioner workshops and training seminars, in addition to give presentations at national, state, and local planning conferences, as well as local universities. He holds a Bachelor of Arts (Advanced) in Regional & Urban Planning from University of

Saskatchewan, Canada, and a Master of City & Regional Planning from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville.

Ty Livingston - Director of Planning & Community Development, City of East Peoria

Since 2006, Ty has held the position of Planning and Community Development Director with the City of East Peoria. While he’s been involved in a number of community-focused efforts in that time, he has most notably been an active contributor in the ongoing redevelopment of a 100+ acre brownfield site known as the Levee District. Prior to working at the City, Ty was the Planning and Marketing Director for CityLink (the Peoria area mass transit service) for 6 years. He has also been the Transportation Planner at the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission and Executive Director of the East Peoria Chamber of Commerce.

Ron Mentzer – Community & Economic Development Director, City of Warrenville

As the City of Warrenville’s first and only Community and Economic Development Director, Ron Mentzer has spent the last 26 years assembling and then leading a diverse team of professionals committed to providing high quality personal service and making a lasting positive impact on the social and economic wellbeing of the community. Ron has worn many professional hats in Warrenville including those of Zoning Administrator, Chief Building Official, and Stormwater Management and Floodplain Ordinance Administrator. During his tenure in Warrenville, Ron and his team have administered four TIF districts, managed the City’s role in the $400 million dollar mixed-use redevelopment of a 650 acre former stone quarry, coordinated the acquisition, cleanup and successful redevelopment of a prominent brownfield site, and helped foster an almost tripling of the City’s total assessed value.

Ron and his wife have raised their 4 sons in the home they built in Warrenville 18 years ago. Ron is an avid outdoor enthusiast, bikes to work most days, and enjoys daily trips into the more than 10,000 acres of public open space surrounding Warrenville.

Kim Porter, AICP – Community Development Director, Village of Woodridge

Kimberly Porter, AICP has been the Community Development Director for the Village of Woodridge, IL since January 2018. She previously served as a Program Management Manager at the Regional Transportation Authority as well as Director of Economic & Community Development for the Village of University Park, Illinois.  In University Park, she worked on various large-scale projects for the Village to include the I-57 Stuenkel Road / University Parkway interchange project and lead the relocation negotiations of the Clorox Company to University Park from Georgia.

Kim’s focus areas include policy and program implementation related to land use, regional and sustainable community development, and access to transit. She has been a member of the American Planning Association (APA) for approximately 19 years and a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners for 12 years. She received a bachelor’s degree in Sociology with an emphasis in Urban Studies from North Central College in Naperville, IL, and a master’s degree in Urban Planning & Policy from the University of Illinois at Chicago.


Phil Green, Village Planner, Village of Woodridge

Born, raised, and educated in the Liverpool region of England, Phil’s first career was as a Sociology and Politics teacher in one of the most economically deprived areas of the UK. These experiences shaped his passion for planning as a means to educate and empower people to bring positive change to their communities.

Phil earned both a Bachelors in Sociology, and a Masters of Civic Design from the University of Liverpool. During his Masters, Phil’s key project involved working closely with stakeholders including the European Union and U.S. State Department to provide insight into the likely socioeconomic impacts of “Brexit” in the Liverpool City Region.

Phil moved to the United States in the January of 2018, and after a year of working in retail began working as a Planner at the Village of Woodridge in 2019.Here, Phil has a broad scope of duties, from day-to-day plan review, to large-scale community engagement activities including the Village’s first Restaurant Week, and outreach efforts around the 2020 U.S. Census.


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