Dozens apply for EBR planning director position

More than 60 people are vying to become East Baton Rouge Parish’s new planning director.

The job, left open with the retirement last week of long-time planner Troy Bunch, is expected to be filled early next year.

Applications will be accepted through Friday, but members of a committee tasked with vetting applications say they are impressed with the pool they’ve seen so far.

“We have some really decent candidates in here,” city-parish Human Resources Director Brian Bernard said during the group’s regular meeting Wednesday.

The candidates include current city and county planners from other states, as well as those working in Louisiana cities. At least 16 of the applicants have 10 or more years of planning experience, and several have met the rigorous standards to become members of the American Institute of Certified Planners.

During Wednesday’s meeting, members of the selection committee said they had already identified at least 18 applicants who “rise to the top” and are being eyed for further review.

The group will select at least five candidates to recommend to the full City-Parish Planning Commission. The recommended applicants will be brought to Baton Rouge for public interviews before a final selection is made.

“I know of five (applicants) that I would be interested to have come in,” said John Price, a member of the selection panel, who also serves as assistant chief administrative officer to Mayor-President Kip Holden. “I’m anxious to see them in the flesh and talk to them.”

But before the list is narrowed, a public forum will be held next week to give community members a chance to give their input on the selection process.

“We want to make sure that individuals have an opportunity to relay to us what their expectations are,” said Metro Councilwoman Tara Wicker, who chairs the City-Parish Planning Commission and is heading the search process.

The planning director is tasked with reviewing potential zoning changes and plans for subdivisions and some commercial developments. The new hire also will be key to the ongoing implementation of FutureBR, the city-parish master plan revamp adopted in 2011.

Last month, the Planning Commission named planning project coordinator Ryan Holcomb as interim director. Holcomb, who is not seeking the permanent position, has since been assisting with the search process.

The city’s pay scale repeatedly has been deemed a hurdle toward filling the permanent post. The planning director job pays up to $100,202, plus a car allowance and benefits.

Wicker said some outside groups have approached her with offers to subsidize the pay, but that isn’t allowed.

“That would be illegal,” she said. “We can’t do that.”

Wicker said some planning groups also have expressed an interest in being more involved in the process. In his letter of resignation, Bunch had suggested creating a selection committee that would include community leaders and industry insiders to “guide the application process, interview candidates and present the most qualified individuals” to the Planning Commission for final approval.

Wicker said she thinks the process, which has included weekly public meetings to review résumés, has been open.

“We’ve had as much input, openness and transparency as possible in this process to date,” she said.

Other selection committee members on Wednesday said they believe the next phases of the search will provide plenty of opportunities for additional insight and input.

“I don’t think anybody has turned a deaf ear to anybody who has come forward to any of us,” Price said.