APA Welcomes New Executive Director

July 2, 2014

APA members,

Please join me in welcoming Jim Drinan to the American Planning Association. Jim started as APA's Executive Director on July 1, beginning a transition year for the organization after 13 years of Paul Farmer's valued leadership. Jim brings more than 25 years of association executive management experience, primarily with health-related organizations, including organizations with chapters, professional certification, and related foundations. Earlier in his career, he was an attorney for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Chicago. Jim, a native of Boston and resident of the Chicago area, has a collaborative and engaging management approach that seeks and leverages innovation from staff and members. I hope you can take the opportunity to get to know Jim during the coming year as he begins his orientation and listening meetings with APA members and partners.

William Anderson, FAICP, and James Drinan, JDThe Board conducted a rigorous recruitment and selection process after Paul Farmer announced his retirement in November. The questions we asked ourselves; the Commission; leaders of the chapters, divisions, and Student Representatives Council; and APA staff were these: Given the strong platform we have today, what are the possibilities for the future, and what attributes do we need in an Executive Director to work with APA members to take us there?

We received excellent input that became the basis for the job description and questions asked during the interview process. We also put out a notice to APA leadership to encourage potential applicants to apply. We sought a diverse applicant pool, and achieved gender and racial diversity throughout the process. In the end, we received approximately forty strong applications from planners, association executives, and individuals in other fields. The Selection Committee narrowed it down to 11 for an initial round of interviews, then four in the final round. All of the candidates in the initial and final rounds were well qualified. The Commission and full Board — including the chairs of the CPC, DC, and SRC — interviewed the finalists before the Board selected Jim.

With Jim's selection, the Board prioritized experience in association management and personal and proven executive skills to run the organization, provide effective services and support, advocate for APA, and build partnerships. Paul leaves APA with a strong foundation, infrastructure, and financial footing to take APA and the planning practice to new levels. Given this platform, the Board felt that we are able to provide greater leadership, broader partnerships, and more innovation through our members. To accomplish this, we need to emphasize organizational management and services to give members the support and platform required to lead — as they do every day — in local communities, international partnerships, and every level in between.

In a way, this is a maturation of the organization. We no longer require the Executive Director to be the national face of planning, but rather the adept and innovative manager of an organization that, with staff, enables its members to be the leaders of planning. Our members include planning professionals, planning commissioners and appointees, and others who join APA because they are interested in planning and the issues we address.

While in graduate school, I had the privilege to intern for Neal Peirce, the national columnist and one of the founders of the National Journal. Although based in Washington, D.C., Neal wrote about urban and rural issues, policy, and public and private program innovations, not just at the federal level inside the Beltway, but also in thousands of local communities and cities and in the 50 states. He was one of the first national columnists to recognize the leadership that was occurring every day, every place in America. APA has long recognized this, and our mission — with Jim's management leadership — is to support those innovations, bring them to light, share them with our members and the public, and build partnerships for more.

As I welcome Jim, I'd also like to thank Paul once again for his service to APA and the planning profession. Paul's passion for planning, its history and role in society to create better communities, and his leadership in advancing the profession will be missed but not forgotten. We wish him the best in his next endeavors and take comfort in knowing that Paul will continue his leadership and advocacy for planning.

William Anderson, FAICP

William Anderson, FAICP
President, American Planning Association