The Board of Commissioners for the Baton Rouge North Economic Development District has decided to wait 30 more days before appointing an executive director to lead the new organization.
That decision came late Thursday after commissioners interviewed three of the top finalists for the spot.
The board hopes to take the next 30 days to iron out specifics surrounding how the initial staffing for the economic development group will be structured in light of current budget projections for the recently approved hotel tax that will fund the organization.
In December, voters in the district approved a 2 percent hotel tax estimated to generate $260,000 a year for the district. But they won't start receiving the tax revenues until June 2017.
The Board of Commissioners intends to pay the future executive director between $55,000 and $100,000 annually, including benefits.
"There was no item on the agenda tonight to select the executive director tonight," Commissioner Jackie Mims explained after a 45-minute executive session the board held following Thursday's interviews. "We talked about what each applicant brought to the table and based on that discussion, realized we can't vote tonight."
The Baton Rouge North Economic Development District is serving as the steering committee for the economically starved community. Most of the board's 11 members were appointed by Louisiana Legislature. The group will serve as the point of contact for people looking to development new businesses and community enhancement opportunities in north Baton Rouge.
The district's interim executive director, Rinaldi Jacobs, has said the economic development group will aggressively pursue grants and other financing as well.
Jacobs is among the three finalists who appeared Thursday before the Board of Commissioners for interviews. Lolitheia Turnipseed-Cotton and Woodrow Muhammad rounded out the pool of candidates.
All three candidates currently live in the north Baton Rouge area and, in their interviews, expressed sentimental connections to the community.
Turnipseed-Cotton, a local businesswoman with experience with the state's Attorney General's Office, touched on her accomplishments spearheading revitalization efforts of a urban community in Memphis many years ago that had many of the same challenges as north Baton Rouge.
She took credit in helping attract 15 viable new businesses in that community, ranging from retail and healthcare to child care services. And she told the district's Board of Commissioners she's confident she can use her past connections with state and local leaders to do the same in the community she now lives and takes pride in.
"My vision would be for the Baton Rouge North Economic Development District to be able to bring to the forefront development and change the attitude of the citizens in north Baton Rouge," Turnipseed-Cotton said during her interview.
Muhammad, who touted his 10 years of experience in zoning and planning, was pressed by the board to articulate what he thinks is the most important duty he would need to tackle as director. To which he replied: flood recovery.
"I think this organization needs to be in a position to help with flood recovery," he said. "I think 20 percent of the funds the state has set aside for recovery can be used toward our economic goals."
Muhammad promised to use his expertise in planning and development to combat the community's issues with blighted properties and ensuring balance within the area's industrial and commercial zoning boundaries.
But he also admitted to lacking experience in grant writing.
"I'm not going to sit here and say I know everything, but there are resources I can tap into to get the job done," he said.
Jacobs, a banking and mortgage expert, opened his interview laying out a multi-tiered approach to revitalizing north Baton Rouge. Within the first four months as executive director, Jacobs said, he would outline the bylaws that will govern the commission, draft a strategic economic plan for the area, implement portions of the 30-year Scotlandville Comprehensive Plan, and work with state and local leaders to raise the supplemental funds for the organization.
He also discussed the work he has already done as interim director to form the BRNEDD and get the dedicated tax passed last year.
"Everything I have is in north Baton Rouge," he said. "I know the history of these neighborhoods. I see the opportunity in (the area)."