Interviews began Friday in search for new EBR planning director

The City-Parish Planning Commission interviewed three planning director candidates Friday and will hold the final three interviews Saturday.

On Friday, commissioners met with three of six finalists for the job — Central Planning Director Woodrow Muhammad, Monroe Planning and Urban Development Director Christopher Fisher and Columbus, Ga., resident Carolyn Rutledge, who previously held planning jobs in Alabama. The three whose interviews will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday are Don Broussard, who owns an Atlanta planning firm; Cincinnati Planning and Buildings Director Charles Graves; and Frank Duke, the former planning director for Norfolk, Va.

All the interviews will be available on government access channel Metro 21’s website Saturday afternoon.

In addition to reviewing proposed zoning changes, plans for subdivisions and commercial development proposals, the new planning director will be key to the ongoing implementation of FutureBR, the city-parish master plan.

During Friday’s interview slate, candidates repeatedly spoke about smart growth tactics and the potential growth for Baton Rouge.

Fisher, who worked as a planner in Houston for more than 20 years before taking the director’s job in Monroe in 2008, said he has worked to implement and revise a master plan there.

“We’ve got a lot of development going on right now,” he said.

Muhammad, a Baton Rouge native with degrees from Southern University and LSU who previously worked for the City-Parish Planning Commission, said his familiarity with the area is an asset.

“There wouldn’t be a learning curve,” he told the commission. “(I’m) someone who could step in and keep the momentum going in the parish. I have a vested interest here in the city of Baton Rouge, and I look forward to being a part of making sure that Baton Rouge becomes the next great American city.”

Rutledge, who served as East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission planning director and city planner in Auburn, Ala., told the commission that she has experience in zoning, working with planning committees, drafting ordinances and working with historical preservation.

“I enjoy planning, and I enjoy going into communities where it’s challenging and it allows me to do something different,” she said. “I think you all are on the brink of doing something great, and I’d love to be a part of it.”

A native of Hattiesburg, Miss., Rutledge said she took a year break from planning because of the unexpected death of a family member.

The commission initially had selected eight finalists for interviews, but two candidates pulled their names from consideration last week.

The Planning Commission is expected to meet Monday to determine its next step toward naming a hire. That could mean selecting one of the six candidates interviewed this week, narrowing the field to a group that will go through a second round of interviews or starting the process over.