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Something's amiss in Planning

Editorial

It's not clear exactly what, but it's the City Council's job to find out

Sometimes a newspaper story tells it all. Sometimes it clears just a bit of the grime from the window. Such appears to be the case with last week's story about troubles in Medford's Planning Department.

Here's what we hear this week: There's much more to say.

The story by reporter Meg Landers outlined a five-year string of departures from the 18-person department. As of last week, 13 planning staffers had left over five years. Another retired this week.

Former employees complain the workload is heavy and morale is low. Several say employees lack the support of their boss, Planning Director Rob Scott, or of City Manager Mike Dyal.

We don't know enough to identify the source of the trouble, but the story and conversations since it appeared with people inside and outside government leave no question that something is wrong in the Planning Department and maybe beyond it.

This is important to Medford in a way that goes beyond bureaucratic squabbles. The Planning Department gives thumbs up or thumbs down on every development proposal that comes to the city.

— Planners should make decisions with a vision in mind of how the city will grow and what it will look like. This couldn't be more critical to Medford now, as pressure to grow pushes the city on all fronts.

But word from the department and from developers is that's not how it's working. Long-range planners, who should be spending their time on looking ahead, are bogged down in day-to-day tasks. If there's a guiding vision, employees don't seem to understand it.

Mayor Gary Wheeler, always a diplomat, demurred last week when asked whether the City Council would become involved, saying that overseeingdepartments was City Manager Dyal's job, not his or the council's.

He's right. But making sure Dyal does his job ' including overseeing city departments effectively ' is smack-dab in the council's domain.

Serious questions with the potential to have broad effect on Medford have been raised here.

The City Council, which now has scheduled a meeting to talk about how city planning works, has a responsibility to learn where the issues start and end. Is it with the department's growing workload, with complaints about pay, with director Scott's leadership or with Dyal himself?

Medford is very near to losing the last of the planners with institutional knowledge about the city and planning.

If there's more to hear here, the council should hear it ' and get on with stopping the exodus before it's complete.