“We need an innovative person with an extensive background in planning, who embraces civic engagement and can help build consensus around critical issues and projects,” said City Manager Maurice Jones.
The position was posted to the city’s website last week. The person hired will make between $110,000 and $145,000 a year. The deadline to apply is May 8.
The previous director, Jim Tolbert, left city government in late January to take a job as assistant city manager of Sandy Springs, Georgia.
Tolbert’s exit was followed in March by the departure of assistant city manager David Ellis, who took a deputy county executive position in Wake County, North Carolina.
A third top vacancy is the fire chief, as Charles Werner recently announced that he would be retiring. A nationwide search for a replacement is expected to begin later this month.
Jones said the city will wait before advertising the assistant city manager position. That person oversees day-to-day operations, citizen engagement and neighborhood relations.
The NDS director’s responsibilities include overseeing a staff of 35 employees who work on city planning, building inspections and property maintenance. The department, which has a $3.4 million budget this fiscal year, also includes the city engineer and manages the affordable housing program.
The director advises the City Council and staff on land-use issues and is ultimately responsible for the Planning Commission, the Board of Architectural Review and other advisory groups.
The advertisement calls for someone with a demonstrated understanding of planning practices. At least five years of management experience is required.
“The new director will be capable of motivating and providing sound professional guidance to a highly competent staff,” reads the job posting. It also asks for someone “with strong marketing and persuasive skills who is willing to engage in proactive discussion with all segments of an active citizenry and highly participative community.”
The neighborhood development services department was created around the time that Tolbert joined city government in 1999. The budget for fiscal year 2000 combined the city’s Community Development, Building and Life Safety and Engineering divisions into the new department.
The idea was to create “a manageable and more accessible agency,” according to city materials from the time.
At the time, now-Mayor Satyendra Huja was director of strategic planning, after serving as head of community development.
Huja retired from city government in 2004 and was elected to the council in 2007.
Councilors will play no direct role in choosing Tolbert’s successor, but their input helped to shape the language in the job posting.
“The council and I have had ongoing discussions about what we need in this position, and I will keep them informed as we move through the process,” Jones said.
At least one councilor has asked that the city consider restructuring the department again.
“Now that we have a strategic plan and key vacancies to fill, it will be important to make sure our bureaucracy is structured to effectively execute our strategic plan,” said Councilor Kathy Galvin. Galvin earlier this month called for an efficiency study to review how city government is structured.
“The whole point of an efficiency study, in my view, is to figure out how to execute our mission better with the resources we have or with even less, thereby saving taxpayers’ money,” Galvin said.
However, three nonprofit organizations sent a letter to city officials in late February urging them to not delay in hiring Tolbert’s replacement.
“We strongly encourage you and City Council to work swiftly in hiring a new NDS director prior to, or at least concurrently with, any contemplated NDS reorganization,” reads the letter, which was signed by representatives from the Free Enterprise Forum, the Piedmont Environmental Council and the Southern Environmental Law Center.
The letter went on to say that a director is needed to oversee many city studies currently underway. These include the Streets that Work initiative, a possible rezoning of West Main Street and an audit of the zoning code.
Jones said there will not be a restructuring of the department at this time, but he is looking for someone who can help to usher in a new era.
“We’re also working to find ways to have the voices of the neighborhoods heard as early in the development process as possible,” Jones said. “This will be critical in easing the tension we sometimes experience between residents and developers.”
Others are hoping that the department will improve communications between developers and residential neighborhoods.
“Many in our neighborhood wonder how one department could represent both the commercial property owners and the concerns of our neighborhood,” said Tom Bowe, president of the Kellytown Neighborhood Association. That group opposed the conversion of a home on Rose Hill Drive to office use, but was unable to stop it from happening.
“The property owner and developer was well represented with lawyers and the game was over before we were ever informed,” Bowe said.
Jones said the advertisement was crafted following input from the presidents of neighborhood associations after a meeting he held with them in February.
“We will also have a community panel or two that will involve neighborhood representatives during the last phase of the interview process,” Jones said.
He said he hopes the position will be filled by early July.