Ashland city manager asks for clarification of his responsibilities

Clockwise from top left, Ashland City Manager Joe Lessard, Councilor Paula Hyatt, Attorney Katrina Brown and Recorder Melissa Huhtala in a cropped screenshot taken during a Feb. 1 City Council meeting.
March 20, 2022

Memo to city attorney focuses on relationship with Park Commission

By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news

The chair of the Ashland Parks & Recreation Commission is calling for an expedited reply to a memo that City Manager Joe Lessard sent to City Attorney Katrina Brown in mid-February.

In the memo, Lessard asks Brown for clarification about the city manager’s oversight of APRC, which has its own elected officials. “I hope your opinion can clarify the allocation of funding, employee supervision and property oversight responsibilities,” Lessard writes. “Your response to the request can help guide me in assuming my responsibilities to the City Council, the Ashland Park Commission, Ashland Recreation Commission, and the citizens of Ashland.” (While technically separate,the Parks and Recreation commissions function as a single entity.)

The memo, sent Feb. 14, was copied to 21 city and APRC officials.

“The city manager, via a memo to the city attorney, has asked for a legal opinion on the extent of his authority related to the Ashland Parks & Recreation Commission,” said Parks Commission Chair Rick Landt, in a statement sent to Ashland.news on Thursday afternoon. “A recent City Charter amendment created his position. That was what it was intended to do. From my conversations with the persons who wrote and forwarded the amendment to Ashland voters and from my reading of the initiative language and voters’ pamphlet statement, there was no intent to change nor language that changed the unique, semi-independent relationship that APRC has with the rest of city government. The City Charter, before and after the amendment was ratified, states that park lands are ‘managed and controlled’ by APRC. As an elected officer, I am concerned by the turmoil that the city manager’s questions to the city attorney raise. Now that the questions have been raised, it is imperative that the seemingly obvious answers be supplied promptly.”

Lessard on Thursday declined to comment on the memo at this time. In the memo, he writes: “Being recently hired by the City of Ashland to fill the position of city manager, I have been reviewing city documents to be sure I fully understand and can assume the responsibilities for which I was hired and will be held accountable.”

Lessard wants Brown’s opinion on the extent of his responsibilities in reference to provisions in the City Charter, as well as with pertinent City Ordinances, Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) and City Council resolutions.

“I believe it is important to show in a transparent way, how their meaning should be understood given the incorporation of Article VIII-A into the City Charter,” Lessard wrote. 

City Councilor Gina DuQuenne, in an interview with Ashland.news, shared her interest in learning what Brown has to say. DuQuenne is also interested in bringing Parks & Recreation under the city’s direct oversight.

When I look at the financial situation of the parks, and the disconnect that I believe is there with Parks & Recreation, I would like to see a charter change and see Parks & Recreation come under the umbrella of the city of Ashland,” DuQuenne said.

DuQuenne has seen the memo and said she is eager to hear Brown’s opinion.

“We all love our parks, we all love our open spaces,” DuQuenne said. “However, it’s more, more money, more money. The people of Ashland, tax-wise, are tapped out.”  

Parks & Recreation Commission Executive Director Michael Black said the Parks & Recreation Commission was created and separated from the city for a purpose. He said the history of parks in Ashland dates back to the early 1900s, and was set up the way it was to ensure that the importance that the community placed on parks would be carried through the century.

“And it’s carried beyond the century,” Black said. “I believe that history shows that  when parks and recreation becomes part of a city (and) it’s not on its own … Those parks departments are generally not doing as well as the (independent park) districts,” he added. “Parks will always be the lowest priority when it comes to expenditures, due to the fact we don’t provide the typical definition of public health, safety, and welfare.”

No response was received to requests to Brown for comment by the close of business Friday.

Reach Ashland.news Reporter Holly Dillemuth at hollyd@ashland.news.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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