By Matt Davis, The Lens staff writer |

The New Orleans Recreation Development Commission tonight appointed interim director Vic Richard as its new chief executive after a special hearing where the four finalists were interviewed.

All but one member of the commission, Bobby Garron, who abstained, voted for Richard’s appointment. The commission hired a headhunter for $42,500 and took 93 applications but ultimately landed on Richard, who was appointed to the job by Mayor Mitch Landrieu in 2010.

Nord candidates from left to right: Reggie Williams, Vic Richard, Charlene Braud, and Wanda Durden.

A motion to select a chief executive was proposed by commission member Craig Mitchell and amended by fellow commission member Christian Rhodes to select Richard.

“It’s simple,” Mitchell said. “We have to maintain consistency in the direction we’re heading in and support this man’s efforts. And that’s why I support this motion.”

Rhodes said the decision was to select “cream from cream,” referring to the other candidates.

“Vic has worked sometimes with his hands tied behind his back by this commission to provide programming despite the lack of resources he sometimes needed,” Rhodes said.

Deputy Mayor Judy Reese Morse said Richard had worked “tirelessly,” and that he “is recreation, in his heart and in his soul, and that he is what we need.”

Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin agreed.

“He is solid as a rock, he loves this city and he will do anything for the children and the seniors who use the recreation department,” Kopplin said.

The selection process had been dogged by questions about government openness, but the public and commission had the chance to grill all four finalists tonight for five hours. Mayor Mitch Landrieu also made a rare appearance at the commission where his seat usually sits empty.  Landrieu did not speak in Richard’s support, but did vote to appoint him.

Commission chairman Roy Glapion said members may have stumbled, but the relatively new public body had done its best to make sure the public is involved in the process.

“Yes, it has taken us some time, and we may have made some missteps, but we wanted to try and do it right,” Glapion said, at the conclusion of the hearing. “We asked every question that came before us today.”

Former professional football player Reggie Williams cast himself as an outsider, who wanted the best for the city’s children. He compared himself to Saints coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees, other outsiders who managed to capture the city’s imagination.

“I don’t even know anything about the Mardi Gras,” Williams said.

Richard said he was a native son of New Orleans, with an “intimate knowledge of our city and our community,” stressing his experience with the commission since 2010, as well as running the recreation department in the city of Philadelphia.

The other candidates, Charlene Braud and Wanda Durden, drew examples from their 12 years and 18 years respectively of managing recreation departments around the country. Braud highlighted her experience getting departments nationally certified, and Durden said the diversity of her experience set her above the rest.

Commission members asked the candidates a selection of questions, from why they wanted the job, to what kind of role they saw for themselves in it, to what their biggest weakness was. The candidates were also asked about their ability to raise money for the commission through its partner foundation.

Using comment cards, the public asked the candidates about their past experience working with unions, what their vision was for local youth, and again, how they might raise money for the commission. They were asked about their experience gaining accreditation for recreation departments, their experience with capital projects budgets, and things they might do differently at the commission if they were in charge.

Landrieu thanked the candidates for their interest in the position and said he was thrilled to have four such strong people in the running.

The Lens chronicled the hearing on Twitter under the #nordc hashtag.

Richard said he would be consider working for the commission if he weren’t selected as the new chief executive, and the other candidates said they would each be willing to work with him.

“I’ve been very impressed with his passion and knowledge,” Williams said.

During the public comment period, four people spoke in support of Richard. A handful of community members in the audience waved signs saying Richard is doing a good job, and encouraged the commission to keep him on.

There was initially some indecision about whether to vote on a candidate or delay a decision. A motion was proposed to move into executive session to discuss the candidates in private, but it died for lack of a second. And then Richard was selected.