Columbus’ transportation planning director has left for a new opportunity, and Mayor Kristen Brown has recommended the city eliminate the job as a full-time position.
Laurence Brown and his wife, Lisa, are moving to Oregon, where he will be a transportation planner for a suburb of Portland.
He is leaving Columbus after nearly three years as director of the Columbus Area Metropolitan Planning Organiza-tion (CAMPO).
Laurence Brown started working for the city in April 2012 as the director and sole employee of the area metropolitan planning organization. It is responsible for the comprehensive transportation planning process for the Columbus Metropolitan Planning Area.
Since then, he’s handled a budget ranging from about $215,000 to $250,000, including his annual salary and benefits — about $82,000 a year — and money for consulting, engineering and other services.
Laurence Brown’s last day of work was Friday, although his active employment stretches until early April.
The metropolitan planning organization director receives salary and benefits from the city, although the position reports to the planning organization’s policy board and not to the mayor.
Removing the position won’t mean eliminating the metropolitan planning organization or the policy board’s authority, the mayor said. The city is required by federal legislation to have a formal metropolitan planning organization to receive its allocation of federal transportation dollars.
But the organization doesn’t warrant a full-time employee, Kristen Brown said.
“The position is really about grant administration,” the mayor said.
“We’re looking to just get the part-time assistance of a grant administrator.”
That would be more efficient and less expensive, and it’s also how the city handles grant administration for the Columbus Housing Authority, using the Administrative Resources association to manage the extensive requirements of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, she said. The city owns the association and uses its administrative services along with 11 other cities and towns.
Zack Ellison, president of the metropolitan planning organization policy board, said that avenue is one of the options the policy board, which has the final say, is considering. The mayor also sits on the policy board as a voting member.
Ellison said there is an ongoing study underway about the daily work required to run the metropolitan planning organization to see if a full-time person is necessary.
He said it’s too early to say for certain whether the policy board would support eliminating the full-time nature of the position. But it’s something the members are considering while also having regular discussions with the mayor and city departments.
If the city decides to hire a part-time consultant or consulting firm, any transportation matters related to the planning organization would be handled by the city engineer, Kristen Brown said.
The mayor said that is how the office should be anyway, especially because there have been disagreements on transportation priorities between Laurence Brown and the city engineer that have held up progress on projects.
Laurence Brown said the move west will offer both professional and person-al benefits.
He said he applied for the Oregon job after his wife found it through an app on her phone that tracks openings, he said.
“Portland is the transportation planning leader in the U.S.,” he said. “It’s a great place to be for a person with my profession.”
It also puts him closer to his family, he said.
Laurence Brown and his wife have one daughter living in Portland and two daughters who live in Los Angeles.
Despite those benefits, it will be tough to leave Columbus, he said. Besides having a love for the city, he also had projects happening through the metropolitan planning organization that he was excited to see through.
Laurence Brown’s departure is a “huge loss for the community,” City Council President Tim Shuffett said, especially considering his knowledge of the federal process and of transporta-tion issues.
Shuffett, however, said he understands that Laurence Brown is moving to pursue a good opportunity.
“Every time we lose a department head, it’s a big blow to us,” he said. “It slows the process down.”
Name: Laurence Brown
Employment: Columbus Area Metropolitan Planning Director, April 2012 — April 2015, last day at Columbus City Hall was Friday
Family: Wife and three daughters
Education: Bachelor of Science in Engineering Science from Iowa State University, Master of Science in Environmental Science and juris doctorate in environmental law from Indiana University