Mayor's office reviews Planning Department appointment

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by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

After advertising the position of director of Jacksonville’s Planning and Development Department on several industry-specific Web sites, in the Florida Times-Union and through direct inquiries to at least 17 municipalities in Florida, the Jacksonville mayor’s office received more than 50 applications.

The official requirements listed for the position state: “The Director shall have a master’s degree in public administration, urban planning or a related field or shall have 10 years professional and administrative experience in a managerial capacity, at least five of which shall be in an urban planning agency or organization.”

“We had a plethora of interest,” said Susie Wiles, spokeswoman for Mayor John Peyton. She said none of the qualified candidates were from cities bigger than Jacksonville. While some were from cities comparable in size, she said, none were directors of their departments.

Of the 56 people who applied for the job, 12 held post-graduate degrees in urban and/or community planning, and five were currently serving as planning directors of smaller municipalities.

Wiles said after all the applications were reviewed, a decision was made to not interview any of the candidates whose qualifications met the requirements and submitted resumes. Instead, the mayor chose to appoint Brad Thoburn, who has been the interim planning director since Mike Saylor left the post in June, to the department’s top job.

“Do you take a guy who has proven his abilities and commitment to the City, or do you take a chance on an unknown quantity from a smaller city?” said Wiles. “Do you do that, or do you offer the job to Brad (Thoburn) ?”

A bill being considered by the City Council would amend the job requirements in order to confirm Thoburn’s appointment.

Thoburn holds a bachelor’s degree in political science. He said he brings with him five years’ experience working for the late U.S. Rep. Tillie Fowler and more than nine years’ experience in the mayor’s office.

While in the mayor’s office, Thoburn served as staff director on the Mayor’s 2005 Growth Management Task Force, which was chaired by Bob Rhodes. Rhodes will soon take over as chairman of the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission and is also the chairman of the JEDC’s Downtown Committee.

Wiles described Thoburn as “a star performer in our midst” and added that being recommended for the job by both Rhodes and Saylor played a big part in the decision to not follow the City’s usual job-candidate evaluation and interview process.

“Both of them said he’s the guy,” she said. “Mayor Peyton was influenced by those recommendations and by what he already knew about Brad.”

Wiles pointed out that Thoburn’s appointment will be on the agenda at two Council committee meetings next week before going before the full Council for final approval. She said Thoburn would have the chance “to make his own case.”

Thoburn plans to attend both committee meetings.

“I’ll be available for questions,” he said. “This is new to me. I’ve never been through the confirmation process for a position before.”