It doesn’t bother City Manager Ray Beck that Columbia has gone without a planning director for more than eight months. Beck said it’s not unusual to take this long to fill such a high-profile position.
The job has been vacant since Roy Dudark stepped down in early June. To date, 12 people have applied, city spokesman Robert Ross said.
In a move intended to attract applicants with more experience, the city last month boosted the annual salary for the job to a range of $69,426 to $94,761, Beck said. According to the city’s Human Resources Department, the previous range was $57,947 to $79,092.
The position is being re-advertised, and a screening committee has established additional guidelines for applicants.
“It’s not unique that we didn’t hire from the first advertisement,” Beck said. “We’re trying to find someone who’s not only qualified at planning but who’s also a good administrator and will be a good addition to the city management team.”
Beck said that unlike in other cities where public positions of this nature are obscure, the job of planning and development director in Columbia is high profile. He said the city needs a candidate who will work well with neighborhood associations, community organizations and even the media.
Jeff Barrow, a member of the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission, disagreed with the notion that such a lengthy search is ordinary.
“I think the fact that they have to raise the salary scale is indicative that something is not right,” he said.
Barrow said he doesn’t understand why the position did not initially attract the best planners in the country, given Columbia’s size and other positive attributes. He worries that potential applicants — who come from a small and close-knit field — might see Columbia as a place that’s doing bad planning.
Barrow thinks planning and land-use often fail to match in Columbia. He cited a special area plan that a citizens’ panel developed for the Rock Quarry Road corridor three years ago. After months of work, Barrow said, the plan was disregarded by city officials.
Commission chairman Jerry Wade, who is also a member of the screening committee, said the search has not gone as well as hoped, but he’s at a loss to explain why. He did say that the committee is reviewing applicants from a very small pool of potential candidates.
“There’s not a large pool of qualified applicants out there looking for positions,” Wade said.
Barrow said Columbia’s rapid growth — he cited the Philips tract and Billy Sapp’s proposed annexation as examples — should be a lure for professional planners.
“Most are looking for a place where they can show off their stuff as planners,” Barrow said. “If you don’t have that, you need to offer other incentives.”
The Columbia salary compares favorably with the pay of planning directors in Springfield and in St. Charles County. They offer starting salaries of $71,926 and $63,531, respectively.
St. Charles County personnel director William Kauffman said planning directors can receive higher starting salaries depending on experience and whether the position involves extra responsibilities such as attracting businesses. Columbia’s planning director lacks those duties.
Besides Beck and Wade, members of the screening committee are Planning and Zoning Commission member Pat Daugherty, Assistant City Manager and interim Planning Director Bill Watkins, former Mayor Mary Anne McCollum, Home Builders Association Director Annie Pope, Public Works Director Lowell Patterson and Human Resources Director Margrace Buckler.
The preferred deadline for applications is March 15, but the position will remain open until it’s filled.
Columbia lists the following minimum qualifications for a planning director in the ad that appears on its Web site.
A bachelor’s degree in urban planning or closely related area; advanced degree in planning desired; five years of increasingly responsible experience in planning and management; or an equivalent combination of education and experience. Supervisory and administrative experience. Thorough knowledge of the principles and practices of urban planning. Thorough knowledge of land use policy development and elements of comprehensive city plans, pertinent data sources, and research methods. Thorough knowledge of accepted practices and current trends in zoning, subdivision, public services delivery, and capital programming. Thorough knowledge of mechanisms of land use control, urban growth economics, and institutions involved in land use regulations. Ability to successfully direct and evaluate personnel. Ability to establish effective working relationships with federal and state agency representatives, other administrators, employees, legislators, boards and commissions, media representatives, and the general public. Ability to analyze, interpret, and apply technical principles and practices, and to create innovative solutions to problems. Demonstrated ability to prepare and administer a budget. Ability to prepare and present oral and written reports, presentations and recommendations, and to perform necessary research or investigations. Knowledge of U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development grant program requirements. Excellent work history and attendance record.