EBR could name new planning director on Monday

The city-parish Planning Commission could name a new planning director Monday —nearly four months after Troy Bunch retired from the post.

The commission spent Friday and Saturday interviewing six finalists who emerged from the more than 90 applications received.

Saturday’s interviewees included planners from Atlanta, Cincinnati and Virginia. The day before, commissioners interviewed candidates from Central, Monroe and Columbus, Ga.

“I think the commission has been successful in bringing forward a great slate of candidates,” said Planning Commission Chair Tara Wicker, who also serves on the Metro Council. “I’m excited about the process and looking forward to the outcome.”

Though the Planning Commission has the option to conduct further interviews or restart the process, Wicker said she thinks a hire will be named next week, based on the commission’s responses to the candidates they’ve seen.

“I think there seems to be a consensus,” she said. “There were some that just had the total package.”

Based on the length of his interview and favorable comments made by commissioners, the commission appeared to be particularly interested in Charles Graves III, the director of city planning and buildings for Cincinnati.

Graves said he has been interested in planning since he was 15 and has an “urge to help cities, help neighborhoods, help people.”

Graves detailed an extensive background that included working on a $2 million comprehensive plan for Washington, D.C.

Graves said he read FutureBR — Baton Rouge’s master plan — and was impressed. Now, he wants the opportunity to be a part of its ongoing implementation, a key duty of the new planning director.

“I think you all have a great plan, a great vision,” he said. “The greatest challenge is to take it day by day and not take your eyes off the prize.”

Don Broussard, who owns Town Planning & Design LLC in Atlanta, also interviewed Saturday. A Lake Charles native with a degree from LSU, Broussard had his wife and parents in the room for his public interview.

“We’ve had good, close ties to this city, this parish and the state of Louisiana,” he said.

Broussard previously served on the planning commission for Georgia’s Dekalb County. He said that experience gives him a different perspective.

“I’m trying to bring that knowledge and experience to you all,” he said.

Broussard assisted with Plan Baton Rouge, the redevelopment plan for Baton Rouge’s downtown.

He said the growth of downtown is “something that the city and the people of Baton Rouge and no doubt this planning commission can take a lot of pride in.”

In the final interview of the weekend, Frank Duke, former city planner for Norfolk, Va., detailed several accomplishments in other cities, particularly with transportation.

“A lot of our city plans have been built around the car,” said Duke, who has served in planning roles in Palm Beach County, Fla., and Durham, N.C. “We forget that cities are really about people.”

Duke, who once served as an intern for former city-parish Planning Director Bunch, said he sees building relationships in the community as an important component of the director’s job.

“How does the planning department relate to the community and how do you build that? I think that’s a critical responsibility of the planning director,” he said.

The new planning director will be responsible for the ongoing implementation of FutureBR. Other duties include reviewing plans for subdivisions and some commercial developments and potential zoning changes. The job pays up to $100,202 a year, plus a car allowance and benefits.

Among the first priorities for the new director will be naming an assistant director. Ellen Miller retired from that position at the time of Bunch’s retirement. Ryan Holcomb, who was in the role of planning project coordinator, has been leading the office on an interim basis.