Panel narrows pool for EBR planning director post

A committee reviewing applications for Baton Rouge’s city-parish planning director job has narrowed its pool to 23 candidates, but a few more names could still come into play.

The panel struck more than 60 candidates Wednesday, most of them routine eliminations because the applicants didn’t meet the committee’s preferred education or experience levels.

Members are expected to further review applications of the remaining candidates and continue narrowing the list in the coming weeks.

“There are probably about 11 or 12 that I want to take a much closer look at, but that’s just me,” said committee Chairwoman Tara Wicker, who serves on the city-parish Planning Commission and Metro Council.

The panel will select at least five finalists to come to Baton Rouge for interviews that will be conducted in public.

The city-parish Planning Commission will have the final say on the hire, and the commission could opt to interview candidates not recommended by the selection committee.

On Wednesday, the committee decided to examine six applications that came in after the Dec. 6 deadline, but it was not known how many of those are considered viable candidates.

Of the six new applications that came in after the Dec. 6 deadline but are under consideration, most were received by mail or email over the weekend of Dec. 7-8.

“Our responsibility is to get the best person we can,” said committee member John Price, who serves as assistant chief administrative officer to Mayor-President Kip Holden.

But committee member James Gilmore said he wasn’t comfortable with accepting applications that came in past the deadline and cast the sole vote against it. Gilmore, who participated in the meeting by phone, said he thought it gave the appearance of an unfair advantage to those applicants.

No one had reviewed the résumés as of Wednesday, according to city-parish Human Resources Director Brian Bernard. He said they were sealed and filed until the committee made its decision.

“I think we did pretty good in terms of our initial scrub,” Wicker said of Wednesday’s winnowing session. “We’re moving pretty quickly.”

The new planning director will replace Bunch, who retired in November after nearly 20 years on the job.

The position, which is responsible for reviewing potential zoning changes, and plans for subdivisions and some commercial developments, as well as the ongoing implementation of the city-parish master plan, pays up to $100,202 a year, plus a car allowance and benefits.

Center for Planning Excellence President and CEO Elizabeth “Boo” Thomas, who attended Wednesday’s review of applicants, said she has looked over all of the applications and is happy with the remaining list.

“I do feel like we have some great candidates,” she said.

Thomas said she thinks that it was wise of the committee to review the applications that came in just after the deadline.

She said some people mighty not have been aware of the job opening in time to get their applications submitted before Dec. 6.

“If we’re really looking for the best candidate, then why would you eliminate some without reviewing them?” she said.

Twelve of the 23 known candidates have met the standards of becoming certified through the American Planning Association and have more than 10 years of experience in the field.

They include certified planners from cities in Louisiana, Mississippi, Virginia and Texas, among others.

The Advocate received copies of the top candidates’ résumés through an open records request last month.

Among those still up for consideration are Central Planning Director Woodrow Muhammad, who previously worked in Baton Rouge’s planning department and has degrees from LSU and Southern University; San Antonio Assistant Director of Community Development Patrick Howard, who has degrees from Clemson University and Old Dominion University; Shreveport Metropolitan Planning Commission Strategic Planning Manager Roy Jambor, who has degrees from Auburn University; and Frank Duke, former planning director for Norfolk, Va., who holds degrees from the University of Alabama-Birmingham, Auburn University and Florida State University and served as an intern for Baton Rouge’s retired planning director, Troy Bunch.