Mark Donaldson Expected to Step Down as Head of MPC Today

Around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday we heard from a very qualified source that Mark Donaldson, the executive director of the Metropolitan Planning Commission agency (which is to say, the staff that makes the plans and not the commissioners appointed to vote on them) is planning on leaving the agency. Unlike other sites, we didn’t wan’t to post an unconfirmed rumor, so we actually spent the entire evening verifying the news. And we can now confirm that Donaldson is expected to tender his retirement (or, possibly, his resignation) at this afternoon’s MPC meeting.

mark donaldson

We don’t know all the details right now, but here’s what we can report: On Tuesday, the five-person MPC Executive Committee met to discuss an amendment to MPC’s budget, allowing Donaldson to outsource the work of former finance manager Dee Anne Reynolds to the county, hire a new planner, and pay deputy director Buz Johnson an estimated $20,000 of accumulated sick and vacation leave upon his Oct. 1 retirement from the agency. At this meeting, Donaldson brought up leaving the agency.

None of the commissioners would confirm exactly what he said, despite it having been a public meeting. When asked if Donaldson is retiring, no one would say yes or no. But, it’s important to note, no one said no.

“I cannot confirm or deny what happened,” MPC chair Becky Longmire said said night. “I think there will be an announcement tomorrow.”

“I’m not going to comment on that,” said MPC vice-chair Bart Carey.

“Yeah, I’m not going to comment,” said Steve Wise, MPC’s attorney who takes all the executive committee minutes. “You can read the minutes when they’re posted.” (Wise takes notoriously vague minutes, so it’s entirely possible there won’t be much of anything in them when they do go up.)

“I don’t believe that we’re supposed to comment on that,” said Commissioner Janice Tocher.

Commissioner Michael Kane said Longmire instructed the committee not to discuss the meeting—again, despite it being an ostensibly open one—until Donaldson had talked his staff and the other commissioners—although, again, Kane would not specifically say whether Donaldson is giving notice of his retirement in a few months or resigning in a shorter time frame. (Although if we had to bet, we’d guess the former.)

“All I can say is that whatever is happening is mutually agreeable,” Kane said.

Both mayor’s offices refused to comment on whether or not Donaldson is leaving.

“No, I can’t comment on that,” said Eric Vreeland, Mayor Madeline Rogero’s spokesperson.

Michael Grider, County Mayor Tim Burchett’s communications head, offered a bit more nuance. “I cannot confirm that is the case without having a resignation letter in my hand,” Grider said.

When that many people refuse to comment that something is happening, you can be pretty sure it is. (Otherwise, someone would have told us that we had it completely wrong.) We have also talked to several other people with knowledge of the happenings that have confirmed Donaldson is leaving.

Donaldson has been under fire lately, from both inside and outside the agency. Staff was upset after Donaldson hired his close friend and former MPC director Dave Hill without any kind of search process; Hill replaced head of comprehensive planning, Mike Carrberry, who retired earlier this year. Staff also has raised questions after Donaldson fired Reynolds in June, leaving the agency without a single female in a management position. Those issues, combined with controversial rezonings and development policies, recently spurred a group of community leaders to call for Donaldson’s head.

Now, it seems, they may have it. Still, other MPC commissioners were shocked by the news.

“I just saw the post on Knox Views, and that is the first I’ve heard of it,” said Commissioner Laura Cole last night.

“I wouldn’t look for that to happen,” said Commissioner Art Clancy. “I would be very surprised if that happened.”

As of 10 a.m., MPC staff has not heard anything from Donaldson about his leaving. He has not returned repeated calls last night or this morning.

We’ll be at the MPC meeting this afternoon—follow us on Twitter for the blow by blow—and we’ve got more details on what has led up to this sudden turn of affairs on the way.