Burney seen as bureaucratic and slow in decision-making as planning director; resigned from $135,000-a-year job

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  • | 12:00 p.m. March 2, 2015
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The city’s Planning and Development Department was perceived as being “overly bureaucratic” under director Calvin Burney.

It’s a notion some City Council members said developers expressed the past several years. Decisions were taking too long and there were issues with mobility fees being incorrectly calculated. An evaluation of Burney last year commented on the bureaucratic perception.

Burney, Mayor Alvin Brown’s first planning director, left the city Friday after submitting his two-week notice Feb. 9.

He served as planning director since Brown appointed him November 2011 for an initial salary of $120,000. In his resignation letter, Burney called his time in the post a “very rewarding experience.”

City spokeswoman Kristen Sell in an email to the Daily Record said Burney was a “great asset” to the city and his hard work was appreciated.

But others aren’t as glowing with praise.

Council member Bill Bishop voted against Burney’s appointment in 2012, saying he wanted someone with more vision for the position instead of policy setting.

Burney served in the department as a transportation planner from 1989-99 before moving to the private sector.

Years after that vote, Bishop hasn’t changed his mind.

“He’s a nice guy,” Bishop said Friday, “but I am not disappointed to see him leave.”

Early trouble cropped up regarding the department inaccurately calculating mobility fees, Bishop said.

Additionally, he said he’s had discussions with many developers who complained it “would take months for decisions to get made.”

“Anything that required executive decision, judgment or working with the public in a timely manner … it just didn’t happen,” Bishop said.

Council member Lori Boyer said she knew many in the development community had been “very frustrated” with the department. Boyer served as chair of the Land Use and Zoning Committee twice during Burney’s tenure.

Boyer said she’s heard of developers unable to get meetings with Burney and department staff was unwilling to make decisions without his approval first. Decisions just weren’t made in a timely manner, Boyer said.

“Folks in that industry … they need an answer,” Boyer said. “Whether yes or no, it’s important.”

His salary in April rose to $135,000, but there was no indication in his personnel file who recommended the increase or why.

An annual performance evaluation completed in October for the 2013-14 year rated Burney a 3 out of a possible 5 score.

Some of the issues council members discussed were part of that review done by former Chief Administrative Officer Karen Bowling.

“Planning and Development has a perception of being overly bureaucratic, something that we will overcome as it affects perceptions as to whether Calvin leads as a change agent,” Bowling wrote as part of an executive competency portion. She graded him “full,” or average, on that area. Burney ranked himself as “exemplary,” which is one notch above Bowling’s score.

Another point also notes the perception of an “overly bureaucratic approach” to the department that affects customer service and human relations in evaluating Burney.

He received “exemplary” marks in areas like percentage of building inspections completed in a day, number of inspections per day and percentage of plan reviews completed in established timeframes.

Conversely, he received an “unsuccessful” mark for the lack of a monthly customer service satisfaction survey. He received two others in the area of cost avoidance and cost savings, which relate to customers.

Several calls to area developers seeking comment about the department were not returned.

After his first stint with the city, Burney served as president and CEO of Transportation Planning Group Inc., a consulting firm specializing in transportation and land-use planning, before Brown appointed him.

Burney could not be reached for comment.

Folks Huxford is serving as the acting Planning and Development director. The department manages existing and future development and administers local, state and federal funds for housing and community development in the city.

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