Mississippi Crossroads / the Next Chapter -- Hernando Planning Director Reflects on Career, New Ventures
Bailey, Henry, The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)
With his retirement announced and the city starting a search for his successor, Hernando planning director Bob Barber took a moment recently to reflect on his first day on the job in June 1996.
"Then-Mayor Ed Gale had just hired me as the town's first planning director. Hernando was only 3,200 in population, and I was quite concerned I wouldn't have enough to do. I thought, 'Maybe I've made a mistake,'" he recalled.
Make no mistake, Barber found things to do, among them helping to make Hernando - now with 14,000 residents - a regional model for development and quality of life.
The city recently was named to CNN/Money Magazine's 100 Best Places to Live with its mix of housing diversity, parks, recreation and dining venues, schools and green spaces.
Barber, 50, came to the city after eight years as an assistant planning director for DeSoto County, and he's said he'll retire in June after 25 years in public service.
"It's been exciting, especially in the recent boom years, but now I'm ready to try my hand in the private sector," Barber said.
And find more time for family - he and his wife, Karol, have a son in college and two other children nearing that stage - his hobbies and mission work through his church, Christ Covenant (Presbyterian Church in America).
Mayor Chip Johnson, speaking for many, is sorry to see him go.
"He literally wrote the book on planning for city leaders in this state," Johnson said.
The mayor said the Mississippi Municipal League's guidebook chapter on the subject for city leaders was written by Barber.
The city has started its search with advertisements with professional organizations seeking applicants.
Barber, a University of Mississippi graduate, is a member of the American Planning Association and a fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners, and he recently was named chairman of the College of Fellows.
His interest in upgrading the quality of planning led to his role in 2007 in founding the Bouchillon Institute, which soon will "graduate" its first certified class drawn from the regional ranks of mayors, aldermen, planning and building commissioners and community activists.
Conferences and classes so far have drawn 600 to 800 attendees.
Meanwhile, he also taught classes at the University of Memphis. Barber's city duties have included serving on the Preservation Committee and the Tree Board, handling building permits and guiding a host of development issues and zoning/conditional use requests through the Planning Commission process and review by aldermen.
In his 16 years with the city, he oversaw improved housing options, a rebirth along Commerce Street and the square - the city's historic economic threads - and plans for the upscale, 1,139-acre Hernando West residential development that will transform the inner city.
"There were a lot of vacancies on the square. …