July 23, 2024

Ashland City Council, city manager reach agreement on terms of departure

Outgoing Ashland City Manager Joe Lessard (left) turns over his ID and keys to interim HR Director Molly Taylor Friday evening. photo by Bob Palermini
October 27, 2023

Joe Lessard steps down immediately, but will remain on paid administrative leave through Jan. 31

By Morgan Rothborne,

The Ashland City Council voted unanimously to accept City Manager Joe Lessard’s resignation at a special meeting Friday evening. 

After the 6-0 vote to part ways, councilors took turns expressing their appreciation for Lessard as he exits the role of city manager.

Councilor Eric Hansen stated he wished Lessard the “best of luck,” and Councilor Dylan Bloom highlighted that Lessard’s exit reflected “a mutually agreed upon agreement.”

The Ashland City Council met Friday evening to accept a severance agreement with City Manager Joe Lessard. The council voted 6-0 in favor of the motion. photo by Bob Palermini

Few details about the reasons for his departure were divulged at the seven-minute public meeting, which followed a 45-minute executive session.

According to a three-page “Leave, Resignation, and Severance Adjustment and Joint Release Agreement” signed by Lessard and Mayor Tonya Graham immediately following the meeting, he will be on paid administrative leave from Saturday, Oct. 28, through Jan. 31, 2024, and will accrue vacation time during the leave. 

He agreed to remain available to the city to answer questions and share his “expertise and knowledge in operations.” 

Outgoing Ashland City Manager Joe Lessard (left) talks with Acting City Attorney Doug McGeary (right) before the City Council’s executive session to discuss the leave, resignation and severance agreement adjustment with the city manager. photo by Bob Palermini

He accepted termination of his automobile allowance, which was put at $400 a month in the contract he signed when he took the job effective Jan. 3, 2022. Lessard’s voluntary resignation will be effective Jan. 31, 2024 at which point he will accept a one-time, four-month severance payment and be eligible for employee benefits and earned leave accruals, according to the document. His healthcare coverage through the city will be in effect until April 30, 2024. 

Lessard’s contract called for a full year of severance pay if he was dismissed in the first two years of employment.

Under his original contract, he was to be paid at the rate of $163,477 to start and receive a raise to $171,651 a year after six months if his performance was satisfactory.

The document stipulates both parties will not make or encourage any statements that disparage or are critical of the other. If asked, the agreed to give a neutral reference stating only the former employee’s dates of employment and job title. 

“If requested for additional information,” the agreement continues, “the city will provide a statement to the effect, and no more, that the employee made valuable contributions to the city during his tenure, that he resigned voluntarily for reasons unrelated to performance, and that further inquiries should be directed to the employee.”

Ashland Mayor Tonya Graham (left) and Interim City Attorney Doug McGeary (right) watch as outgoing City Manager Joe Lessard (center) signs his severance agreement shortly after the City Council approved it at a special meeting Friday evening. photo by Bob Palermini

Lessard’s health benefit coverages through the city will continue through April 30, 2024.

Mayor Graham expressed her thanks for the way Lessard handled the turbulence of his brief tenure. 

“I know what a challenge it was to come into the city of Ashland with so many of our systems in need of leadership,” she said. “I’ve appreciated working with you and I’ve appreciated the many good things you’ve brought to the city in your time here.” 

More information
The agreement signed Friday
The city manager’s contract
Video of the Oct. 27 special meeting

“I appreciated his service,” said Councilor Bob Kaplan. “I only had a chance to work with Joe for, I guess, 10 months as a councilor, but in that time I feel that I saw your work ethic, which I appreciate and also in particular I can speak for a number of people who were at the Housing and Human Services Committee yesterday who appreciated your work on the crisis of homelessness in our state.”  

Several councilors expressed confidence in Deputy City Manager Sabrina Cotta’s ability to take over the city executive reins.

“The deputy city manager is very capable,” Hansen said. “The city is in good hands. Sabrina will be carrying the torch forward.”

“I have immense confidence in her to move us forward,” Bloom said.

Approached after the meeting, Lessard declined to comment, except to say, “I think council spoke.” 

Before leaving the building, he handed his keys to the city to Human Resources Director Molly Taylor. Graham said a statement from the city will be available Saturday. 

Email reporter Morgan Rothborne at Editor Bert Etling contributed to this report.

Followup article: Ashland mayor: ‘Time to transition’

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Email him at

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