Urban planning community

+ Reply to thread
Results 1 to 14 of 14

Thread: Big city planning directors: insider or professional?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
    Registered
    Nov 2002
    Location
    Ocean to the east, land to the west
    Posts
    1,057

    Big city planning directors: insider or professional?

    The Boston Redevelopment Authority, which does most of the urban planning for the City, has a new head. The Mayor named Peter Meade, a long time insider who most recently headed the Edward Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate project, as the new director. He comes in with little planning or real estate experience, but lots of experience in Boston and presumably the ear of the Mayor:

    http://tinyurl.com/3mxogfz

    What do you think of hiring an insider vs. conducting a wide search and hiring the best planner you can get? Is there a balance? I can see both sides to the issue but I generally think its a shame that Boston can't even conduct an open search to see who else might be interested?

    Do your large cities hire the person the Mayor trusts, or the best professional? Or some combination?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
    Registered
    Aug 2001
    Location
    The Cheese State
    Posts
    9,920
    Often a department head of such a large agency does not need to have specific expertise. After all, the BRA deals with planning, finance, real estate, development, etc. It may be sufficient to have expertise in one area, or general knowledge of all. Also, there is a political dimension that goes beyond "who do you know". The director needs to have trust and the ability to work with a diverse set of interests. This is often the most important aspect of the job. The director can set overall direction and build support, while division managers and other lower-level leaders have responsibility for daily operations.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  3. #3
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
    Registered
    Mar 1996
    Location
    Upstate New York
    Posts
    14,552
    Blog entries
    3
    The City of Buffalo did the same thing, hiring one of the city attorneys who was closely connected to the mayor to fill the planning director position. The PD position was advertised, but from what I heard, all the applications were tossed and no interviews were conducted, except with, I'm assuming, the current PD.

    Buffalo city government has never been a meritocracy, so it's about what I'd expect. The police chief position was filled in a similar manner; advertised in obscure venues, received applications supposedly tossed with no interviews conducted, insider hired.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
    Registered
    Nov 2002
    Location
    Ocean to the east, land to the west
    Posts
    1,057
    I agree that running a department that size is as much about management skills and political savvy as it is about urban planning. That's why I have mixed feelings about it.

    I know of a city that had a very good urban planning professional running its department- but that person had no management or political skills and didn't advance much of a planning agenda. His successor had as many management skills as planning ones and the place has been much more stable for it.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
    Registered
    Nov 2006
    Location
    Jamestown, New York
    Posts
    1,681
    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    The City of Buffalo did the same thing, hiring one of the city attorneys who was closely connected to the mayor to fill the planning director position. the PD position was advertised, but from what I heard, all the applications were tossed and no interviews were conducted, except with, I'm assuming, the current PD.

    Buffalo city government has never been a meritocracy, so it's about what I'd expect.
    Even when Buffalo does attempt to be a meritocracy and look outside the usual suspects, it manages to find duds, as the school superintendent has repeatedly demonstrated. The nitwits on the School Board hired a guy who was fired from his only other previous school superintendent job. Maybe they should have actually checked Williams' references ... DOH.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian cng's avatar
    Registered
    Nov 2010
    Location
    Greater Los Angeles
    Posts
    207
    There's quite a bit of editorial on last year's hiring of Los Angeles' Planning Director, Michael LoGrande, and the resignation/retirement of the previous director, Gail Goldberg. Goldberg was hired from the City of San Diego through a nationwide recruitment. She was considered a planning professional, known for implementing sound planning principles, such as the village plans for San Diego. LoGrande, formerly the zoning administrator, was promoted from within, largely because he was someone the Mayor trusted, and had a reputation of being more developer-friendly. So, certainly in this case--insider over professional.

  7. #7
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
    Registered
    Jun 2003
    Location
    at the neighboring pub
    Posts
    5,279
    What I've seen playing out in Texas:

    If the city is a Strong Mayor form of government, then the planning director tends to be a political appointment. If the city is Council-Manager, then the planning director tends to be a professional hired on merit (but with a strong management background). There are exceptions to these rules, but that has been the pattern.

    Once cities start pushing past around 75k-100k in Texas, there seems to be a tendency to emphasize management skills and de-emphasize technical planning experience/knowledge. One of my former employers (city of 50k) decided they would hire one of these management generalists as planning director. This did not go well, as the prior directors were 'working directors' that handled some cases, etc. and officials were disappointed because the new director was not able provide clear, articulate answers on-the-spot as had been the case in the past. He did not understand enough about planning to effectively run the department and manage workloads, which resulted in his departure. That city has an interim director now that has a good combination of management skill and planning knowledge. Hopefully they'll make him the permanent director.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  8. #8
    Cyburbian cng's avatar
    Registered
    Nov 2010
    Location
    Greater Los Angeles
    Posts
    207
    Quote Originally posted by Suburb Repairman View post
    Once cities start pushing past around 75k-100k in Texas, there seems to be a tendency to emphasize management skills and de-emphasize technical planning experience/knowledge. One of my former employers (city of 50k) decided they would hire one of these management generalists as planning director. This did not go well, as the prior directors were 'working directors' that handled some cases, etc. and officials were disappointed because the new director was not able provide clear, articulate answers on-the-spot as had been the case in the past. He did not understand enough about planning to effectively run the department and manage workloads, which resulted in his departure. That city has an interim director now that has a good combination of management skill and planning knowledge. Hopefully they'll make him the permanent director.
    I believe there is a danger of letting developers and politicians dictate the planning of a city, when you have a planning director that lacks technical planning knowledge. I would think that such a director would be less reliant on comp plans, vision plans, design guidelines, or other tools that help determine the built environment for a city... but instead, be more responsive to the demands of local constituencies. And if this is the case, I would also anticipate conflicts between the the director and the department staff, that would have to reluctantly draft the conditions that meet political demands or concessions. I'm not saying it's bad to be responsive to local stakeholders--however, I believe there is a need for professional planning expertise for doing things better--beyond what is typically proposed.

  9. #9
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
    Registered
    Jun 2003
    Location
    at the neighboring pub
    Posts
    5,279
    Quote Originally posted by cng View post
    I believe there is a danger of letting developers and politicians dictate the planning of a city, when you have a planning director that lacks technical planning knowledge. I would think that such a director would be less reliant on comp plans, vision plans, design guidelines, or other tools that help determine the built environment for a city... but instead, be more responsive to the demands of local constituencies. And if this is the case, I would also anticipate conflicts between the the director and the department staff, that would have to reluctantly draft the conditions that meet political demands or concessions. I'm not saying it's bad to be responsive to local stakeholders--however, I believe there is a need for professional planning expertise for doing things better--beyond what is typically proposed.
    What you described is exactly how it played out, and was a big reason I departed (I was the planning manager, equivalent to the assistant director). He was not an effective political buffer and was highly reactive. It led to undermining the various adopted plans and development codes due to political expediency. Staff recommendations for denial were practically prohibited. It wasn't that he was more responsive to the demands of local constituencies--it was that he favored one (developers) over others (everyone else) due to politics (had a crappy city manager as well). While most developers are generally OK, when a city gets a reputation like that it attracts the bottom-of-the-barrel developer snakes. Since then both the city manager and development services director were run out of town, and I believe the next director will be a legit planner-manager.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  10. #10
    Cyburbian cng's avatar
    Registered
    Nov 2010
    Location
    Greater Los Angeles
    Posts
    207
    Quote Originally posted by Suburb Repairman View post
    While most developers are generally OK, when a city gets a reputation like that it attracts the bottom-of-the-barrel developer snakes. Since then both the city manager and development services director were run out of town, and I believe the next director will be a legit planner-manager.
    I agree. Also, when a director lacks planning knowledge, it may be difficult for that person to distinguish between the bottom feeders versus the developers that do an okay job. For that person, additional design features or amenities may be viewed as a burden; a perspective more aligned with that of the developer. Either that, or they play stupid, and are just ethically inept, caving into every single political demand. These type of managers will ultimately get run out of town, if you have a community with residents that have expectations of good planning.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian GeoTech's avatar
    Registered
    May 2002
    Location
    Upstate NY
    Posts
    33

    Buffalo Planner

    Dan - What ever happened to the "professional" planner that came in from Seattle for a few weeks? He actually accepted the position, then came to work and decided it was not for him? Anyway, Brendan can do a decent job. He is a lawyer with some decent land use knowledge and the desire to make a positive change. He has as good a chance as anyone I've seen in this Town act as a change agent.

    And, the governor and state legislature have figured out how to save our state from fiscal doom. Which, after all, is what drives business investment here (State tax rate and incentive packages).



    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    The City of Buffalo did the same thing, hiring one of the city attorneys who was closely connected to the mayor to fill the planning director position. The PD position was advertised, but from what I heard, all the applications were tossed and no interviews were conducted, except with, I'm assuming, the current PD.

    Buffalo city government has never been a meritocracy, so it's about what I'd expect. The police chief position was filled in a similar manner; advertised in obscure venues, received applications supposedly tossed with no interviews conducted, insider hired.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    Jul 2010
    Location
    St. Louis, MO
    Posts
    50
    I agree with many of Suburb Repairman's thoughts. If the primary way to accomplish things in a city is to have the Mayor's ear, what Boston did may make some sense.

    And while my gut reaction tends to be that public positions always, always need to be advertised and the candidates chosen on the basis of merit and experience, it's important that the planning profession value "getting things done" if we are to be valued by our employers. We're dangerously close to being non-essential personnel.

    On the other hand, I'd like to think that Boston and all cities in America are places where there is a contest of ideas in the public arena, and that perhaps even the Mayor would pause for the citizens to understand and weigh in on an issue. In that type of large city (do we have some?), a professional certainly is indicated and for the reasons described. If the planning director can't answer an unanticipated question about theory or consequences from the governing body or a citizen at a public meeting, the planning department just diminished its value in the public's perception.

    Some planners are terrible managers, but there are enough mid-level management positions in large city planning departments that the potential for hiring such an individual can be low in a careful selection process.

    It will be interesting to watch Boston. I attended the APA conference there and encountered BRA employees ranging from very competent professionals to inept, inarticulate, and unversed in planning-related cause and effect.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
    Registered
    Mar 2004
    Location
    Where Valley Fever Lives
    Posts
    7,146

    Simple.....

    If the position is appointed by a politician, then by all means appoint away.
    If the position is advertised as an open professional planning director position, then hire the most qualified applicant that meets all of your needs as a jurisdiction, anything else is cronyism.
    Skilled Adoxographer

  14. #14
    Member
    Registered
    Sep 2009
    Location
    Chesterfield, VA
    Posts
    5
    In some situations, It's better to have someone who is not a professional planner assuming staff has the necessary planning expertise.
    The position of director requires a multi-faceted skill set that includes both a basic knowledge of planning theory and the ability to maneuver within the system. The ability to maneuver is more important than a planning degree for that position because theory and real world application are usually different and the ability to solve problems and get things done is most important.

+ Reply to thread

More at Cyburbia

  1. Calling potential employers (Directors)
    Career Development and Advice
    Replies: 9
    Last post: 04 Jun 2012, 11:07 AM
  2. Insider Tips and Advice
    Friday Afternoon Club
    Replies: 31
    Last post: 23 Feb 2008, 2:07 AM
  3. Replies: 6
    Last post: 14 Jul 2003, 11:36 AM
  4. Insider trading
    Friday Afternoon Club
    Replies: 1
    Last post: 26 Aug 2002, 11:23 AM
  5. Replies: 15
    Last post: 21 Mar 2002, 5:34 PM