Berkeley seeks new director of planning after previous director’s resignation

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Six months after the resignation of Carol Johnson, the former director of planning for the city of Berkeley, the city is still recruiting for a new director.

According to the job posting, the city is looking to hire a planning director with skills in leadership, communication and management, with applications due in early DecemberJohnson became Berkeley’s permanent planning director in October 2016 and held the position until her resignation in May.

Johnson said she stepped down to move with her family to Arizona, where she is now the director of planning and development for Maricopa County. She added that her decision to move was a difficult one.

“I have never worked with a finer group of people in terms of the staff in the city of Berkeley and the community members,” Johnson said. “It’s a very unique environment to work in, especially in planning.”

Timothy Burroughs has been serving as interim planning director since Johnson’s resignation. City spokesperson Matthai Chakko said the city is conducting a national recruitment process to hire a new planning director.

“This is a key position for the city, so we want to make sure that we get the best possible candidate,” Chakko said.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said it is not unusual to have lengthy gap between the resignation of a city employee and the appointment of a replacement. He added that being the director of planning in Berkeley entails a number of challenges.

“The controversies and complexities of Berkeley make it a really hard job for anybody who has it,” Worthington said. “Even other cities that have a lot of problems probably are still less challenging than Berkeley.”

Councilmember Ben Bartlett said Johnson’s open-door policy and responsiveness to the community made her a “really good community member.” One of her major achievements while working in Berkeley, he said, was winning a competitive grant to redesign the Adeline Street corridor.

Johnson cited this Adeline Street corridor project and an update to the city’s zoning ordinance as her most noteworthy accomplishments in Berkeley.

“She really opened up the planning office and … made the planning office a member of the community as opposed to some distant, closed room,” Bartlett said. “That was, in many respects, a revolutionary act.”

Some community members, however, reflect less favorably on Johnson’s work. Berkeley resident Kelly Hammargren pointed to a lack of innovative leadership within the city and the planning department.

Although Bartlett said the city is looking for a “visionary” new planning director who believes in equity and inclusion, Hammargren said she has seen few accomplishments from the city’s planning department in the past and does not anticipate much change with the appointment of a new director.

“I am just not impressed with what comes out of planning,” Hammargren said. “You would think that in a city like Berkeley, we would get some leadership with vision, and I just don’t see that happening.

The appointment of the new planning director will be made by City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley and then approved by City Council, according to Chakko.

Contact Danielle Kaye at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @danielledkaye.