Planning Director Resigns Five Months After Hiring

by ARLnow.com March 7, 2012 at 1:12 pm 7,356 69 Comments

Arlington County planning director Peter Katz, an author and nationally recognized proponent of the New Urbanism movement, has abruptly resigned after less than five months on the job.

Katz resigned yesterday, effective immediately, according to Arlington County Director of Communications Diana Sun. The resignation was first reported by the Arlington Mercury.

In a prepared written statement, Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development Director Robert Brosnan suggested the resignation followed a realization that Katz was not the right person for the job.

Peter Katz is a well-known proponent of the New Urbanism (smart growth) movement, and has played a key role in shaping the movement.

Peter and we have come to a mutual agreement that his passion and energies are better suited to consulting than to staff work. Though we both worked hard to make it work, it just ultimately wasn’t the right fit, which we regret.

The role of Planning Director is a key one in Arlington and we will take immediate steps to fill the position.

We wish Peter all the best in his career and future endeavors.

Robert Brosnan, Director
Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development

Update at 4:25 p.m. — Arlington County Human Resources Director Marcy Foster says the standard salary of a planning director in Arlington is $150,000. That would put Katz’s to-date compensation at about $60,000. Foster could not say whether Katz would receive a severance package, citing privacy reasons. Former county manager Michael Brown’s $110,000 severance payment was revealed, she said, because Brown was under contract, whereas Katz was a county employee.

  • Corey

    Just because you’re an expert in something, doesn’t mean you’re ready to deal with the grind-it-out, compromising nature of government. Hope he lands on his feet.

  • Dum Dum Guy at the Gates of Dawn

    It appears that the planning director failed to plan for this job. Either that, or his plans failed.

  • MC 703

    Read: He didn’t like going to daily 9am staff meetings and sitting on mundane conference calls.

    • Josh S

      I think it may be more of a working with others, delegating, sharing decision making, etc. He’s an academic. Used to being a one-man band.

  • Dan

    Interesting …….maybe he will go wherever Michael Brown went !!

  • nunya

    it was all that sf yapping. i bet he’s planning on going back there.

  • Suburban Not Urban

    Wonder what the severence package is like vis-a-vis the one for the recently departed County manager? Be nice if someone was held accountable for these mistakes and make them think twice about this kind of politically motivated – agenda driven hiring.

    • Thes

      Who hired him and what was their political motivation and agenda?

      • Suburban Not Urban

        Well I’m guessing the county manager hired him(possibly with meddling/direction from members of the board) and the agenda is the folks in the county govt that think that the so-called “smart growth” policies should be imposed on the residents at the expense of all other considerations – and trying to bring in as many new residents beholding to their lifestyle choices to tilt the voters in their favor.

        • Just the Facts

          Nothing like admitting you’re “guessing” after initially stating your speculation as fact.

          Additionally, Arlington has been pursuing smart growth strategies for decades, hardly something the Board suddenly decided to impose on residents with the hiring of one person.

          • Suburban Not Urban

            My guess was about the who not the what – it was pretty clear(see the ARLNOW discussion when he was hired) that this was a profile hire not a substantive(AKA resume) hire

          • Zoning Victim

            I’ve done a lot of hiring and a little bit of firing over my career. There is absolutely no way to know if someone is going to workout before you’ve hired them. You learn how to interview well in hopes that you’ll get it right most of the time, but it’s hard to replicate the pressures, conflicts and grind of working with a team of people. Some of the people with the best experience and interview skills turn out to either be head cases that can’t work with others, people who go off in their own direction all of the time because they can’t take direction or just thinkers instead of doers. I’d assume the higher up the ladder you go in terms of responsibility, the more difficult it is to predict someone’s performance. Every company in the world has had instances where they’ve hired the wrong person for the job and had to fire them, you just don’t see it in the news.

  • drax

    Not again.

  • Aaron

    Awww, now we’ll never be San Francisco on the Potomac!! (I’m assuming they hit him with a drug test after he made that observation and this is the result).

    • Andy

      Good one.

  • ReverseCommute

    I heard it’s because he read the comments on Arlnow.com

  • OldTimer

    Refused to wear brown flip-flops to the office. Black flip-flops just did not cut it.

  • Lou

    Was just thinking about this guy the other day. All the fanfare when he was hired, then silence.

  • Chris Slatt

    Can’t say I’m particularly surprised – Katz always struck me as more of an idealist and an “idea man”. Planning Director is much more of a “get it done” position. He’d be much better off at a consulting firm as the theorist, researcher and idea man.

    • Lou

      From the County’s press release when he was hired: “We expect Peter to provide strong leadership and vision as we continue the work of building a sustainable community.”

      Sounds like they expected him to be an idea man.

      • Josh S

        Yeah, and everyone just assumed he’d be able to handle the management side of it. Is there a person among us who hasn’t encountered the smart and perfectly decent guy who just didn’t have the skills to be a good manager?

        • Lou

          His most recent job had been urban planning director for Sarasota County in Florida. Do you think Arlington interviewed anybody down there to see how he performed at that job?

          • Josh S

            Well, if they vet like DC vets Fire Chiefs, then, no, I doubt they asked.

            (Is that vett, with two ts?)

          • Zoning Victim

            No, you have it right in your first sentence.

        • Zoning Victim

          Yes, right now I call him “boss,” haha. IT is full of really smart but bad leaders because it’s often assumed that you should be leading teams if you’re a great developer; nothing could be further from the truth.

  • Resident

    He spoke at the Clarendon Alliance annual meeting and said he had to read from prepared remarks rather than speak extemporaneously as he would normally do because of his role on staff. I think it’s really a shame that he wasn’t allowed to speak his mind in public. I think his knowledge and opinions would have served Arlington well, but I’m guessing Arlington didn’t want the independent, potentially conflicting voice and Katz didn’t want to be muzzled.

    • drax

      Very enlightening comment, Resident, thanks. Sounds like he hated being a bureaucrat. I don’t blame him.

    • Not your bro

      That’s interesting. I got the impression he wasn’t very interested in talking to citizens’ groups either, sort of already knew what he wanted to do and what he thought would work . . .

      I wonder what Donellan is like to work with?

    • lebele

      That comment appears to paint as negative something that is actually good practice.

      When one is on a government staff speaking in public, that person darned well better give the vetted and approved policy — in our case that of the County Board. Policy and project decisions represent the entire county government and not personal opinion. Pronouncements outside established policy will certainly hit the news. That causes confusion and the appearance of incompetence.

      Every federal official who testifies to Congress faces the same constraint.

      His personal views that might be super, so his job was to convince his superiors to change policy or budget decisions, and THEN tell the public.

      • Resident

        I understand your point. It’s one of the frustrating things for me, as a resident when dealing with county staff. There are many bright people in the planning department and I might ask them what *their* opinion is on something. The wise ones either spout the party line or decline to answer. I really want to know their opinion as professionals. I undertand that if they said “well, this is my opinion, and it may not be current policy…” that it could cause a lot of “trouble” for senior staff or the board but it sure would be a lot more interesting and informative.

        • Josh S

          It’s a due process requirement. All citizens must be treated the same.

    • C Z future

      The fact that he said out loud in a public forum that he’d be reading from remarks and not winging it like he would prefer, is actually quite damning in itself, and shows remarkable lack of judgement for a senior official.

      • Yea, Right.

        Hyperbole much ?

  • It would be very enlightening if Arlington County Director of Community Planning, Housing and Development Robert Brosnan would chime in on what happened here.

  • Arlington, Northside

    It seems to be a misinterpratation of expected roles. It happens, five months seems like a reasonable time to figure such a conflict out. Hopefully there is no unreasonable severence package this go around.

    • bemused bystander

      You mean the county wanted someone with vision, as long as the vision didn’t conflict with established visions … and ideas, as long as they fit in with accepted wisdom? And probably initiative, as long as it didn’t stir anything up.

      Too bad. Katz seems to be a bright guy though perhaps lacking in bureaucratic infighting skills.

    • Lou

      I don’t buy that, probably some philosophical differences. The reason you interview people is to establish, at the very least, that the roles are understood. Hopefully during that process you also come to an understanding about philosophies.

      The basics of the interview/offer process: responsibilities and compensation.

  • nom de guerre

    If my memory serves me correctly, the County had problems articulating why former County Manager Michael Brown (4 months on the job) left. First they said he resigned for “personal reasons” and then Jay Fisette later said Mr. Brown was asked to step down because he “wasn’t a good fit.” Either way he received a generous severance package of over $100,000.00

  • HayCaramba

    he was a county employee, not even vested. he doesn’t get a dime, pack up and roll.

  • It was probably like this….. “Resign or be fired. We don’t want the public impression to be that we had to fire you, so we’ll offer you a nice deaparting package to resign. Take it, or get fired and get nothing.” Resignation given and enough cash received to move and cover a nice living until another job is found.

  • SA

    “Peter and we have come to a mutual agreement that his passion and energies are better suited to consulting than to staff work.”

    Translation: the “Arlington Way” made his head explode

    • j

      Translation: Consulting pays more. Much more.

      • Dan

        “Translation: Consulting pays more. Much more.”

        Well it did before he took the job, so that doesn’t really wash.

      • Arlington, Northside

        Translation: Consulting allows you to present your opinions on the subject, not the vetted opinions of those above you in the org. chart.

        • speonjosh

          So it is two ts. Thanks!

  • Mr Neutron

    The so-called “Arlington Way” again … pay lip service to something but don’t let anyone who may know something that might clash with the “party line” (broadly speaking, not just in partisan terms) loose to speak freely ….

    The illusion of inclusion continues …

    • Not your bro

      I thought the Arlington Way meant including knowledgeable citizens in the conversation – so if he wasn’t interested in working with citizens, maybe that was the problem.

      • Or maybe the Arlington Way means including the illusion of including knowledgeable citizens.

        • Not your bro

          That’s deep.

          • Josh S

            It might be interesting to learn how this phrase came to exist. Because I suspect that if political scientists came to examine Arlington and compared it to other jurisdictions, I don’t know that they would have ever noticed a difference in the way local government functions are carried out. Am I wrong?

  • Hitdahighway

    Mr. Katz did not play nice with the AHC contingent or with the local development companies…he carried a similar reputation in Sarasota…he was known as a guy who did not always cater to the entrenched local interests….maybe that was the case here??

  • TJLinBallston

    I was looking forward to Peter Katz making his mark on Arlington. There are a few reference points between Rosslyn and San Francisco but the resemblence is fleeting. I think Arlington looks like Arlington — it’s doing it’s own thing and doing it better all the time.

  • J.Peterman

    The Mercury article has the money quotes:

    In an address last November, he outlined his views that the government should give clear guidance then step back and allow the development to occur.

    He told the the county’s Planning Commission that planners must move away from “obsessive focus on the curlicues on the 12th floor.”

    He said that governments must regulate with clarity and precision but then let the development grow on its own.

    Obviously he believes in a more organic growth model, while Arlington insists on too much micromanagement of the process and results.

    How the two parties could not see this from the beginning period of interest is beyond me.

    • bemused bystander

      Sounds like a pro-development growth model to me.

      • Ed

        Or else it’s just one random line picked out of a speech which is now being given false significance. Two articles and 40 comments later, I haven’t seen anything from anyone who seems to know much. (And I’m certainly not claiming to.)

  • Frank Rizzo

    “Arlington County Human Resources Director Marcy Foster says the standard salary of a planning director in Arlington is $150,000. That would put Katz’s to-date compensation at about $60,000. Foster could not say whether Katz would receive a severance package, citing privacy reasons.”

    I wonder if those privacy reasons would trump a FOIA request?

    • Suburban Not Urban

      They often do in personnel matters, but honestly I don’t know why he would get anything if he doesn’t have a contract. If you don’t want to or can’t do the job you are hired for, and you leave, or you are fired for some real reason, you shouldn’t get anything other than maybe 2 weeks notice.

  • MC

    Something is broken if two people holding this position each can’t last more than a few months. The Board obviously has strong views, so maybe this position isn’t necessary at all – they can decide everything themselves. I would rather an elected official have pushing strong views, than an unelected one.

    • Thes

      Which two people are you talking about?

    • SometimesAFact

      You’re confusing two very different positions. Michael Brown was County Manager. Peter Katz was a division director — that’s two steps down.

      • Not your bro

        Which also means the assertion above (by Suburban??) about county board meddling with Katz is invalid – I thought the board weren’t allowed to talk to anyone but the manager.

        • Suburban Not Urban

          Doesn’t really matter if the board talks directly or tells the manager to tell the planning director

          • Not your bro

            I guess, but that’s supposing the manager does everything the board tells her to. Does she?

  • Roquer

    Guess he got tired of Zimmerman’s streetcar boondogle too.

  • Arlingtonian

    Maybe his problem was that he was willing to change County policies and plans in response to citizen input. That would be a no-no to nearly all other County planners, who are committed to giving only lip service to the people whose taxes support their salaries.

  • KalashniKEV

    “New Urbanism” = SCAM.

  • Resident

    A little more detail in a Washington Post article


    This was an interesting observation that we can read too much into:

    “There wasn’t anything broken that we brought him in to fix,” Brosnan said.

    I believe Brosnan moved up and Katz had taken Brosnan’s old job so Brosnan saying everything was awesome is a little self-serving. Brosnan seems like a decent guy from what I can tell, but he is one of those that has been in the County for many decades so he may only be happy promoting from within. Mid-level staffers – time to start sucking up ! LOL.

  • Civic Activist

    An ‘inside’ source at CHP#1 told me: He decided to leave after he found out the the rat was the mascot of this Urban Village and that the County Board would spend a hour at each major site plan hearing discussing which species of rat.

  • Ho hum

    Katz was probably a good guy, but failed to realize many folks like the status quo and don’t want to change things up in any meaningful way.


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