Should planning department report to mayor, rather than Metro Council?

Photo submitted by CPEX.

Should authority over the Planning Commission move from the Metro Council to the mayor-president’s office? It’s a question the Plan of Government committee says is worth studying.

The committee, which met today, is recommending to the Metro Council create a group to study how the Planning Commission is organized and who should have authority over its management—the legislative or executive branch of city-parish government?

If approved, the study would be part of what the Center for Planning Excellence bills as an effort to foster better coordination between the commission and the Department of Development, which reports to the mayor’s office.

“There’s a lack of consistency,” says Camille Manning-Broome, CPEX president and CEO. “There’s the implementation of the FuturEBR plan, but then there’s what gets built on the ground, and it’s not in line with that vision.”

The Planning Commission’s organizational structure is unusual in that it falls under Metro Council authority, with the council appointing a planning director who oversees its operations. The Department of Development, which handles subdivisions, permits and inspections, falls under the mayor. Nationally, most planning departments fall under the executive branch, with planning and building inspections typically within the same organizational structure.

But the idea doesn’t sit well with Planning Director Frank Duke, who says it isn’t the organizational structure, but the people—as well as inconsistencies between the outdated Unified Development Code and FuturEBR—that has stymied implementation of the city-parish master plan.

“The key is that people from the departments are working together,” Duke said at Monday’s meeting. “Unless you get that buy-in and commitment, the rest doesn’t matter. I don’t know that adding words [to the Plan of Government] will be enough.”

CPEX surveyed 19 cities’ planning commissions, focusing on organizational structures, functions, budgets and salaries for each.

Among five peer cities with similar populations, East Baton Rouge Parish has the smallest allocated budget at $1.5 million. The next-closest is Raleigh, North Carolina, which has a $5.7 million budget, while the most funded peer city—Kansas City, Missouri—has $28 million in its coffers.

Baton Rouge’s planning department also trails far behind its peers with its number of full-time employees, which recently dropped by 40% to 17. Meanwhile, Raleigh, again the next-closest, has 55 full-time staffers, while Albuquerque, New Mexico, has 170. Nationally, entry-level staffers’ salaries vary from $75,000 on the high end to $35,000 on the low end, where Baton Rouge falls.

Other departments also focus on neighborhood planning, transportation planning and urban design—areas CPEX says Baton Rouge could also consider.

Officials with CPEX and the Planning Commission will return to the Plan of Government committee to recommend specific language changes at its next meeting on March 11.

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