Planning commission regroups, invites finalists for interviews

Four finalists for the city-parish planning director’s job will be invited back to Baton Rouge for another round of interviews after the Planning Commission’s top pick removed his name from consideration last week.

Those still in the running include planners from Atlanta, Central, Norfolk, Va., and Columbus, Ga., with decades of experience in the field.

Commissioners say they are hopeful that another round of interviews, following initial interviews earlier this month, will give more insight into the candidates so a final decision can be made. The timeline isn’t yet finalized, and it could be several days before interview dates are set.

“I want the commission to feel confident in the process that we have utilized,” Planning Commission Chairwoman Tara Wicker said. “I think it was a good process. There are always things that may occur that you don’t have control over.”

The commission appeared to reach a final decision after spending more than four months vetting more than 90 applications for the parish’s top planning job.

Cincinnati Planning Director Charles Graves declined the job offer Wednesday, a decision Wicker attributed to media attention.

Graves hasn’t publicly given a reason for withdrawing from negotiations. His job offer was contingent on a background and reference check and successful salary negotiations.

“We were really positive and very hopeful,” Wicker said. “But things happen as they may.”

A second round of interviews has been discussed as a possibility throughout the search, and commissioners spent about 45 minutes discussing possible plans on Monday before voting to proceed.

Some commissioners expressed interest in narrowing the field to another candidate, but others agreed to have another round of interviews. The only finalist not invited back was Monroe planning director Christopher Fisher.

The Planning Commission didn’t rank its runners-up when it selected Graves, and commissioners Monday again declined to rank the finalists. All who agree to come back for the second-round interviews will be subjected to background and reference checks before the interviews.

The candidates invited back to Baton Rouge for second interviews are:

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

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

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

Former East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission planning director Carolyn Rutledge, of Columbus, Ga., who has a degree from Ole Miss.