Metro Jacksonville's Stance on Brad Thoburn Appointment

January 23, 2007 1 comment Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

The following is a letter sent by Metro Jacksonville to the Jacksonville City Council regarding the Brad Thoburn appointment. In two weeks, the Jacksonville City Council will hear a proposal to waive the official qualifications for the position of Planning Department Director, so that Brad Thoburn may be appointed to the position. Much discussion has taken place surrounding this issue and The Metro Jacksonville Group has been one of the parties leading the discussion.

Metro Jacksonville had the opportunity to interview Thoburn for the position. He was gracious and answered all of our questions without hesitation. In addition, Mayor John Peyton stopped by a recent meeting of Metro Jacksonville with Policy Chief Adam Hollingsworth to discuss his thoughts behind the suggested appointment of Thoburn. Mayor Peyton referred to Thoburn as one of the smartest people he's known and also pointed to Thoburn's work with The Better Jacksonville Plan, the Growth Management Task Force and his proven track record of acquiring state and federal funds for local projects.

We'd like to thank Brad Thoburn, Adam Hollingsworth and Mayor John Peyton for taking time out of their schedule to meet personally with Metro Jacksonville. Nothing obligated them to do this and it was definitely appreciated; and we thank them for their time.

During the interview with Thoburn, he was asked many questions on topics ranging from New Urbanism and the current zoning code and past planning positives and negatives to comparisons to other cities and how downtown relates to other surrounding neighborhoods. Frankly, we felt that the answers that we received were those that would be expected from a planning department office manager, not that of a Planning Director.
Both Thoburn and Mayor Peyton discussed how the position is largely managerial and administrative, and that we hire planners for the actual "planning work". However, that is not the intent of the position, despite Mayor Peyton's observance as such. If the purpose of the Planning Director is to be an administrator, why does the ordinance require a master's degree in Urban Planning or a related field, and ten years of managerial experience, five of which are in a planning organization? If Mayor Peyton felt that the position was truly managerial, then why doesn't he ask the city council to change the requirements; instead of waiving them solely for this candidate?

The bottom line is that Brad Thoburn is simply not qualified for the position. He seems to possess many positive leadership qualities, is a decent manager of people, has good interpersonal skills and has experience working in Washington, D.C. for the late Congresswoman Tillie Fowler; which should prove invaluable to this administration. It seems Thoburn can be an invaluable and irreplaceable resource for the administration, but not in the position of Planning Director.

The people of this great city deserve the best city planner that can be found. Mayor Peyton's office stated that they received in excess of 50 resumes for the position, but that none of the candidates were even worthy of an interview. This may be the case; but if it's true, then the people of Jacksonville deserve a more exhaustive search, they do not deserve Mayor Peyton throwing in the towel when the city doesn't find the ideal candidate on the first round of inquiry.

In recent editorials, some have stated that the mayor should have the right to pick his own team and the City Council should just "go along with it". However, the city code declares that the City Council must confirm the mayor's decision – this is called checks and balances and is an integral part of any high school civics class. Some have also gone on to say how Mayor Peyton is the one person who is ultimately responsible for any decisions that Thoburn makes. However, who has to live with those decisions, good or bad? The citizens of Jacksonville.

The Jacksonville City Council should be offended by the notion that columnists in our local media would infer that they should just go along with anything, particularly an appointment that they have an official and legal responsibility to objectively critique. The City Council has the responsibility to ensure that any mayor appoint the most qualified person available for a particular position; and Metro Jacksonville refuses to believe that Brad Thoburn is the most qualified person available and willing to serve Jacksonville as Planning Director. We truly believe that Jacksonville deserves the best, and because of that, we respectfully request that the Jacksonville City Council deny Mayor Peyton's request that the job requirements for the position of Planning Director be waived.