Council’s leader suggests dropping search for planning director

Metro Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe is recommending that interim Planning Director Ryan Holcomb be appointed to the position after a series of setbacks in the ongoing hiring search.

“I think Ryan would do a great job and have enjoyed working with him in the past and I certainly believe he is qualified for the position,” Loupe wrote in an email to council members this week, requesting that the search be brought to a close.

The search for a new lead planner has stretched for nearly six months. Former Planning Director Troy Bunch retired in November.

The City-Parish Planning Commission unanimously agreed to offer the job to Cincinnati planner Charles Graves last month, but Graves declined the offer.

Another finalist for the position recently dropped out before second-round interviews could be scheduled. That has left three candidates still in the running — Don Broussard, of Atlanta; Woodrow Muhammad, Central; and Frank Duke, Norfolk, Va.

In his email, Loupe commended Planning Commission Chairwoman Tara Wicker, who also serves on the Metro Council, but noted that efforts to name a new planning director “have been impeded and disrupted on several occasions.”

In applying for the interim job, Holcomb said he would serve in the role as the next director, if that’s what the commission wanted, but he didn’t plan to actively seek or apply for the post.

The Planning Commission has been operating independently in the process of naming a new director, so Loupe’s email could signal a desire to shift control to the Metro Council following all of the setbacks.

Wicker said she “would entertain” Loupe’s suggestion.

“I wouldn’t want to not consider (Holcomb) if he was interested,” she said.

But Wicker said it will be up to the commission to discuss it and decide whether to consider him.

“I think Ryan has done a fabulous job holding down the functioning of the office and keeping things moving while we’re going through this process, but I’d like to see what the other commissioners thoughts are on that,” she said.

Planning Commissioner James Gilmore said he agrees the decision ultimately should come from the Planning Commission, but he supports Holcomb taking on the planning director role permanently.

“Ryan Holcomb is more qualified and competent to hold the position than any of the remaining candidates,” Gilmore said. “He’s very qualified, he’s a team builder and he communicates regularly with me as a commissioner.”

Gilmore said he plans to recommend Holcomb for the position during an upcoming meeting, but he’ll remain open to other suggestions from the panel.

Planning and business leaders have repeatedly stressed the desire to hire a “visionary” for the position who could lead the ongoing implementation of FutureBR, the city-parish master plan.

Elizabeth “Boo” Thomas, president and CEO of the Center for Planning Excellence, said she thinks the Planning Commission should continue its search process.

“Ryan has done a fabulous job as interim director, and it would not surprise me if he were to rise to the top in a search,” she said.

But without the process, Thomas said, “it would seem like we’re rushing to do something. Why not give this time since it’s such an important position?”