Field for EBR top planning post narrowed to eight

Eight finalists have been selected to be interviewed for East Baton Rouge Parish’s top planning job.

The City-Parish Planning Commission agreed on the list Tuesday after nearly an hour and a half of discussing planning director applicants.

Dates for the interviews haven’t yet been set, and it remains unclear whether the eight will be brought in for face-to-face meetings or interviewed by video conference. City-parish staff are reviewing the options, including areas of the planning office’s budget that could be tapped to come up with the estimated $4,000 to $7,000 it would cost to bring all eight to Baton Rouge.

A second round of interviews could be held with a shorter list of finalists at a later date.

The candidates for the initial interview round include certified planners from smaller cities in Louisiana, including Monroe and Central, as well as from Cincinnati, San Antonio and Fairfax, Va.

About 90 people initially applied for the job, and a selection panel has spent several weeks reviewing résumés.

In creating Tuesday’s list of finalists, the Planning Commission, which has the final say in the hire, stuck mostly to the earlier committee’s recommendations. However, the commission added two candidates back to the pool — one to ensure that a woman would be interviewed and the other because he reached out to the committee to provide additional information about qualifications that didn’t appear on his résumé.

“We’ve done a lot of work on this — gone back and forth,” said Planning Commission Chair Tara Wicker, who led the search committee and serves on the Metro Council. “Not too many tears, but a lot of sweat.”

The finalists for the job are:

Charles C. Graves III, director of the Department of City Planning and Buildings for Cincinnati. He holds degrees from Hampton University and New Hampshire College and a certificate of advanced study from Harvard University.

Fairfax County, Va., policy and plan development chief Sterling Wheeler, who has degrees from Texas A&M.

San Antonio Assistant Director of Community Development Patrick Howard. He has degrees from Clemson University and Old Dominion University.

Woodrow Muhammad, the planning director for Central, who has degrees from LSU and Southern University.

Monroe Planning and Urban Development Director Christopher Fisher. He has degrees from Concordia University, University of Southwestern Louisiana (now University of Louisiana at Lafayette) and Prairie View A&M University.

Former planning director for Norfolk, Va., Frank Duke, who holds degrees from the University of Alabama-Birmingham, Auburn University and Florida State University. He served as an intern for Baton Rouge’s retired planning director, Troy Bunch.

Donald Broussard, who owns a planning and design firm in Atlanta and has previously served in public planning roles in that area. He has degrees from Georgia Tech and LSU.

Former East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission planning director Carolyn Rutledge, who has a degree from the University of Mississippi.

Otis Spriggs, the planning director for the city of Jonesboro, Ark. who was recommended by the selection committee, withdrew his name from consideration.

Rutledge, who wasn’t on the selection committee’s list, was brought back into the group of finalists out of concern that no women were still being considered for the job.

“I just hate to see a process where you’re limiting an opportunity,” Planning Commission member Sarah Holliday-James said, noting that Rutledge had similar qualifications as the men who made the finalist list. “It looks terrible, in my opinion, to interview all males.”

Broussard, who also was added to the finalists Tuesday, went to elementary school with Commission member John Price, but Price said the two had not been in touch until recently. He contacted Price to provide information about his past certification and involvement with the American Planning Association, which he didn’t realize would play a factor in the selection process.

“I don’t have a horse in this race, I just want to see that the very best candidates come before us,” Price said. “(Broussard) indicated, ‘Look, I’ve waited 15 years for this job to be open.’ All he wants is an opportunity for the interview.”

The new planning director will be key to the ongoing implementation of FutureBR, the city-parish master plan. The job pays up to $100,202, plus a car allowance and benefits.

“I think this new director will have the advantages of an impending economic boom,” Center for Planning Excellence CEO Elizabeth “Boo” Thomas said, but she also noted the challenges that he or she will face, including poverty, sprawl and congestion.

Planning Commission Vice Chair W.T. Winfield said he also will be looking for a candidate who can address transportation issues, particularly amid recent proposals to create a streetcar line between downtown and LSU and a passenger train from Baton Rouge to New Orleans.

“That person, whoever we select, should be aware of transporatation in Baton Rouge,” he said.