Flint, MI—Wondering who Flint’s new planning director will be? So is the city’s Planning Commission.

“As of now will there be an interim director or will the planning contact be someone else?” asked Vice Chair Carol-Anne Blower at a commission meeting on April 25, 2023—just two days before former Planning and Development Director Suzanne Wilcox’s retirement was set to take effect.

Wilcox was not in attendance. Instead, Bill Vandercook, zoning coordinator / planner II, responded that “for now” the commissioners’ contact would be Roy Lash, the department’s current lead planner.

“Possibly, at the next meeting, we will have some new news,” Vandercook said, referring to the body’s next scheduled meeting on May 9.

Lash then stood up and added that his being the point of contact was “unofficial,” as he’d not actually been told to step into that role.

“I have received no, you know, no notice or anything that I’m filling in for any of the duties that the director is responsible for,” he told the commissioners. “That’s just as a professional courtesy because there should be a point of contact.”

Flint Planning Commission Chair Robert Wesley chuckled before saying, “I’m laughing but it should not be like that. It should not be like that.”

Wilcox’s retirement was announced in March 2023.

In response to Flint Beat’s request for who will be filling Wilcox’s role, interimly or otherwise, Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley said in a statement:

“The City of Flint is taking the opportunity of this transitional moment to transform the Planning & Development Department into a concierge service for both residents and businesses, with the goal of making business development much easier in the city of Flint.”

The mayor did not clarify what “concierge service” meant before press time. Flint Beat also asked if such a service would mean structural changes to the department or changes to its duties and did not receive a response.

Neeley otherwise confirmed that his administration had “conducted a national search resulting in many qualified candidates” and had “identified key candidates” to fill Wilcox’s position, which became vacant on April 28.

In the meantime there is neither an “acting” nor “interim” director of the city’s Planning and Development Department, he said.

The planning department manages site plan reviews, zoning permits, and many major development projects. Just last year the department was pivotal in adopting both an updated zoning code as well as a new marijuana ordinance for the city.

Additionally, while Wilcox had not been a regular presence at Planning Commission meetings in 2023, she attended many Flint City Council meetings to speak on grants and projects that would affect city development.

Just last week, she spoke on a $650,000 grant regarding Flint’s ongoing Choice Neighborhoods Initiative.

Regardless of the lack of clarity around her replacement, the planning commissioners shared their gratitude for Wilcox’s last six and a half years of service as outgoing director.

“I think it’s appropriate … for us as the Planning Commission to acknowledge and express our appreciation for her years of work and support,” said Commissioner Robert Jewell.

Vandercook also noted that the mayor had provided the planning department with “full-time temporary help” to support the remaining staff, which is lacking two full time positions aside from Wilcox’s, in the meantime.

Per Flint’s city charter, once Neeley names a successor for Wilcox, that candidate’s appointment will need to go before Flint City Council. Council will then have 90 days to either approve or reject the appointment.

If the appointment is not acted on within 90 days, it will be considered approved.

Kate is Flint Beat's associate editor. She joined the team as a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues....

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