Yes, it’s hard to believe, but Shreveport may have, for the first time ever, a well qualified professional planner to head up the Shreveport/Caddo Parish Metropolitan Planning Commission (MPC).
Earlier this year, Charlie Kirkland retired as MPC executive director; many wonder how he was ever hired for that position to begin with, much less held the post for 30 years. Kirkland has been under pressure for the last few years by many who believed that the MPC staff had failed to achieve modern planning standards, including revision of the zoning ordinances.
As the Commission debated the selection process for the new executive director, members of the Shreveport City Council and the Caddo Commission attempted to flex their political muscle, i.e. the funding of the MPC, in this process. Both the Council and the Commission initially wanted to have three votes each on the new hire. After a push back by the Commissioners as well as public criticism by good government advocates, both bodies asked for a seat at the table in an “advisory capacity”. Lead by first year chairperson Lea Desmarteau, the Commissioners stood their ground and refused to allow any participation by either the Council or the Commission.
The Commission established the minimum qualification for the position to be a bachelor’s degree in urban planning, public administration or a related field, at least five years of progressive planning experience and a minimum of four years of supervisory work. The 47 applicants for the position included three in-house applicants; not surprisingly, none of these were in the ten finalists selected.
After background checks the top ten will be narrowed down to five finalists who will come to Shreveport for in-person interviews by the Commission. Additionally the finalist will participate in a public forum that will provide the Commission the opportunity to evaluate the interaction of the applications with elected officials and private citizens – which is a critical component of the job.
The ten finalists have impressive credentials – far exceeding the minimum criteria. All have an advanced degree and substantial management experience that will be needed to effectively supervise an entrenched staff as well as build a rapport with public officials. The longevity of Kirkland’s tenure as well as the political posturing of several politicians, especially two outspoken Caddo Commissioners (John Escude and Ken Epperson), provide both challenges and opportunities for the incoming director. The new hire will also inherit, for good or bad, the recently adopted Shreveport-Caddo 2030 Master Plan.
Much credit goes to MPC Chairman Desmarteau who has provided outstanding leadership during her short tenure marked by unprecedented political pressure and criticism by paid public officials – verbally abusing her and the other the non-paid commissioners. Desmateau has not only ably steered the Commission in the executive director selection process (with the able assistance of former chairman Wintzer Andrews), but she has also headed up a revision of the Commission’s policies and procedures. The Commission’s labors this year are reflective of citizen involvement in government at its best, and it sends a positive message to those disenchanted with local government.