Mayors Respond to Donaldson’s Retirement

Today, at the end of a three-hour Metropolitan Planning Commission meeting, MPC Executive Director Mark Donaldson officially turned in his notice of retirement, as we first reported would happen this morning.

“Maybe I’ve done this long enough. I am really excited about not working anymore,” Donaldson told the room, as his eyes slowly filled with tears.

He praised his agency, and about nine staff members who had come down from the fourth floor stood to honor him. The rest of the room (sans media) joined suit, with applause. After the meeting, commissioners were effusive.

“I hate it. He’s probably one of the best planners I’ve ever seen,” said MPC chair Becky Longmire.

“I’m still reeling,” said Commissioner Laura Cole.

“I hate to see Mark go. I think the people of Knox County are going to regret this,” Commissioner Art Clancy said.

“I really think that Knox County and Knoxville city are losing a great planner,” said Commissioner Janice Tocher. “Mark Donaldson had a talent for thinking outside of the box. I’m sad that we’re going to be losing that.”

A handful of commissioners headed down Gay Street to Clancy’s afterwards, where they cheered Donaldson as he walked in the door and then toasted his career with drinks. (Note: We just randomly happened to be there eating a sandwich when this happened.) Whatever agency staff may or may not think about Donaldson, he has his fans on the dais.

A little bit later, the spokespeople for Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero sent out statements on Donaldson’s retirement—and how they’re going to find his replacement. (Surprise! MPC’s executive committee doesn’t get to do it anymore!)

Here’s Burchett’s statement:

“I want to thank Mark Donaldson for his years of work on behalf of the Metropolitan Planning Commission. At the appropriate time, I look forward to working with Mayor Rogero and the MPC to select a new executive director.”

And here’s Rogero’s statement, which has a lot more detail on the process for the new hire:

I want to thank Mark Donaldson for more than 9 years of public service to our community, and wish him well in his retirement.

Serving as the executive director of a planning organization is a tough job – you have to balance competing interests, strong opinions and personalities, and you have to be able to form consensus and craft creative, logical and common-sense policies that work for Knoxville and Knox County.

State law allows the City and County to enter into a cooperative agreement regarding the organization, composition and funding of MPC, and the selection of its planning director.

I have spoken with Mayor Burchett and MPC Chair Rebecca Longmire about our next steps. Mayor Burchett and I have agreed to establish this cooperative agreement and to then jointly appoint a search committee comprised of a representative of each mayor, MPC Chair Longmire, and others to be announced.

I anticipate a wide search. The director should possess the strong planning, leadership and communications skills needed to collaborate with business, neighborhood and government partners to proactively move the community forward.

We welcome ideas and suggestions from MPC commissioners, planning staff, and citizens as we embark on the selection process.

We’re very interested in the “others to be announced.” We expect at least one neighborhood leader will be on the committee, given some communities’ current anger at Donaldson, and maybe even one person representing a neighborhood in the city and another representing a county community. But what we really want to know is whether any current MPC employee will be appointed to the committee—and if so, if it will be a supporter of Donaldson.

We’re also curious as to how much Donaldson may shake up the agency in his four-plus months left on the job. (His announced retirement “date” is basically whenever his replacement starts.) MPC’s second-in-command, Buz Johnson, is leaving in September. The former third-in-command, Mike Carberry, left in May. Carberry’s replacement, Dave Hill, is Donaldson’s close friend. The only female on management, Dee Anne Reynolds, was pushed out in in June. And Donaldson isn’t replacing either Reynolds or Johnson.

At today’s MPC meeting, the Commission approved $40,000 in raises for agency staff in a budget amendment (which also eliminated Donaldson’s $4,300 annual car allowance and $2,200 used to pay for staff KAT bus passes). Will those raises go to everyone equally? Or just a few select employees? We don’t know, but we suspect we’ll find out soon …

CORRECTION: As pointed out to us by the MPC/TPO’s Jeff Welch this morning, the budget amendment did not actually eliminate Donaldson’s car allowance or staff bus passes. In the delirium of two back-to-back 12-hour days, I totally misread the line items on the budget. Stupid on my part, apologies all around, etc.