Applying Policies Consistently

24 January 2023

Liang was considering withdrawing his Committee of Adjustment (COA) application. He contacted a City Planner to ask if this was possible and if so, what would happen to his application fee. The City Planner he spoke with told him that he would get a full refund, minus a $100 administration fee, if he withdrew it before a hearing was scheduled. This meant that Liang would receive a refund of $12,096.07.

After speaking with the City Planner, Liang decided to withdraw his application, and did so before a hearing was scheduled. However, he was then told by City Planning that his refund request would need to go to the COA for a formal decision.

The COA reviewed his request, but decided not to issue the refund, stating that significant work had already been done on his application. Frustrated, Liang contacted our office for help.

We looked into his complaint and found several fairness issues, including that Liang did in fact qualify for a refund according to the policy that was in place at the time Liang withdrew his application. We learned that City Planning had drafted a new refund policy, but it did not go into effect until after Liang requested a refund. It therefore appeared that the refund policy was not being applied consistently and objectively to Liang's request.

We also found that the policy that was in place at the time of Liang's request was not clear or easy to understand. It did not say anything about sending refund requests to the COA to decide whether a refund would be given.

Finally, we found that at the time Liang requested a refund, City Planning's refund policy was not publicly available. This meant that Liang was reliant on City Planning and COA staff to tell him what the process was.

We recommended that City Planning refund Liang the full $12,096.07. The City accepted our recommendation and confirmed that it would refund Liang the full amount.

Why this Matters: When the City's policies are unclear or aren't applied consistently — or even if there's a belief that this might not be the case — it can impact the public's trust in their local government. That's why it's important that the City clearly communicates its policies to the public and follows through on what's been communicated. We worked to make sure that happened for Liang.