Interviews set for three finalists for EBR planning post

Updated at 7:08 p.m. — The City-Parish Planning Commission will interview three planning director finalists on May 5, including the person serving as interim director.

Commissioners voted Wednesday to consider interim Planning Director Ryan Holcomb for the job, based on his experience serving in that role since former Planning Director Troy Bunch retired in November.

The move follows a series of setbacks in the search that have left the Planning Commission with just two finalists from its original list of top candidates.

Finalists Don Broussard, of Atlanta, and Frank Duke, of Norfolk, Va., have both undergone background and reference checks and were asked to participate in another round of interviews after Charles Graves, the commission’s first pick for the job, turned down an offer last month.

Broussard, a Lake Charles native who graduated from LSU, owns Town Planning & Design LLC in Atlanta. Duke resigned from his post as Norfolk, Va.’s planning director in November after six years on the job.

Holcomb did not originally apply for the job, and some commissioners raised concern over his addition to the slate Wednesday. Commissioner Sarah Holiday-James unsuccessfully pushed to open the job up to other applicants for a week if Holcomb was to be considered.

“What I’m looking at is being fair and consistent,” she said.

Commissioners W.T. Winfield, Darius Bonton, James Gilmore, John Price and Steven Perret voted in favor of adding Holcomb to the finalist slate, while Commissioners Gregory DuCote, Laurie Marien and Holiday-James voted against.

Planning Commission Chairwoman Tara Wicker was absent.

Prior to the meeting, at least two Metro Council members — Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe and Councilman John Delgado — had suggested that the search end and the job be given to Holcomb. Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle spoke in support of considering Holcomb, who grew up in Baton Rouge and has a degree from LSU, for the job.

“We constantly talk about feeding people here in Baton Rouge and helping our own,” she said. “If he is a qualified person, he should be considered. The best and brightest could possibly be right here at home.”

The Planning Commission received more than 90 applications last fall, but those familiar with the process repeatedly have said salary could make it difficult to find the “rising star” leaders want.

“I want us to hire the most qualified person we can possibly get,” Nancy Curry, president of the Federation of Greater Baton Rouge Civic Association, said Wednesday. “I think the salary is an important issue and we need to be able to pay for that qualified person.”

Only the Metro Council can raise the $101,000 salary cap for the position, and council members present Wednesday were cool to the suggestion, mentioning budget constraints.