When the City-Parish Planning Commission recently named its pick for the parish’s top planning job, the offer was contingent on a clear background and reference check.
That condition left some wondering why those checks hadn’t been completed before a favorite was named.
Charles Graves didn’t accept the job offer, so the search for a new planning director continues.
And this time around, all four finalists still up for consideration are undergoing background and reference checks before they return to Baton Rouge.
The Planning Commission made a “conscious decision” to not perform background checks on the six finalists brought in for the first round of interviews, Chairwoman Tara Wicker said.
“It was a decision we collectively made as a cost-saving measure for the taxpayers,” she said.
Commissioners have always discussed the potential for a second round of interviews, though most said they hoped to avoid it.
“I think it has been a good process. There are always things that may occur that you don’t have control over,” Wicker said.
Publicly, leaders attributed Graves’ decision not to take the job to media attention after he was picked. He hasn’t commented, but Graves, who is the planning director for Cincinnati, would have had to take a $30,000 pay cut to come to Baton Rouge.
Larry Bankston, of the Baton Rouge Growth Coalition, told the commission that candidates could use the Baton Rouge job as an opportunity for personal gain back home — either a pay raise or some other consideration.
Among Bankston’s suggestions for the commission to avoid another situation like Graves’ withdrawal: bring back more than one candidate for second-round interviews and keep candidates “in a state of flux” so they aren’t holding all the cards. Also, perform those background and reference checks to make sure there are no red flags.
“Everybody you bring back should already be vetted before you bring them back,” he said.
According to interim Planning Director Ryan Holcomb, the background checks will cost less than $100 per person.
The four finalists are former Norfolk, Va., Planning Director Frank Duke, who was an intern for Baton Rouge’s retired planning director, Troy Bunch; Lake Charles native Don Broussard, who owns a planning and design firm in Atlanta and has held several public planning roles in that area; Central Planning Director and Baton Rouge native Woodrow Muhammad; and former East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission Planning Director Carolyn Rutledge, of Columbus, Ga.
Based on commissioners’ reactions to the first-round interviews, the planning director selected from those four may not have the unanimous support that Graves received.
During discussions before opting to bring the four back, some commission members named their own personal top two, but their lists weren’t all the same.
By contrast, Graves’ public interview was the longest and had commissioners the most engaged. It took them 15 minutes to unanimously vote to offer him the job.
Elizabeth Crisp covers East Baton Rouge parish government for The Advocate. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @elizabethcrisp or Facebook at facebook.com/ECrispReporter. Read The Advocate’s City Hall Buzz blog at www.blogs.theadvocate.com/CityHallBuzz.