ashland.news
July 23, 2024

Ashland mayor: ‘Time to transition’

Councilor Eric Hansen, left, listens to City Manager Joe Lessard at a council meeting in February. Bob Palermini photo/palermini.com
October 28, 2023

City releases statement about city manager’s departure

By Morgan Rothborne, Ashland.news

The city of Ashland issued a public statement Saturday afternoon pointing to the need for stability and change as the reason for City Manager Joe Lessard’s departure. 

“The City of Ashland has been well-served by Mr. Lessard’s experience and focus on organizational systems and strategic planning, as well as his strong work ethic,” Mayor Tonya Graham is quoted as saying in the statement. “Under Mr. Lessard’s guidance, we have fully transitioned to the Council-Manager form of government. He has helped the Council identify the highest priorities of the Ashland community and set the course to implement them.

“Having reached that important milestone, it is now time to transition to management focused leadership to take the next steps in serving the people of Ashland. I appreciate all that Mr. Lessard has brought to the City of Ashland and wish him well.” 

The statement also quoted from a memo written by Lessard and submitted to the city of Ashland Oct. 23, in which Lessard wrote: “Looking forward, I see the need for a period of organizational calm or stability and focus on internal operation improvements. … I believe the organization needs to retrench its internal service capacities by adopting new operational approaches, particularly with the introduction of automation and modernized operational procedures. This will require a shift in managerial focus to accomplish.

“I believe I have accomplished the original goals that the Council charged me with at my hiring and now think my skill set and strategic orientation may not be the best fit going forward for Ashland.”

Lessard’s memo then made a request for a joint discussion between council and himself about the future of Ashland and a transition of leadership for the city manager’s office, according to the statement. 

Lessard’s resignation was officially accepted through a unanimous vote at a special council meeting Friday evening, immediately following an executive session at which the council discussed Lessard’s proposed resignation terms, according to the city statement. 

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

According to an agreement signed by Graham and Lessard immediately following the meeting, Lessard’s “departure from the city” was effective Friday, Oct. 27, but his voluntary resignation won’t be effective until Jan. 31, 2024, at which point he will accept a one-time, four-month severance payment.

Until then, he remains eligible for employee benefits and earned leave accruals, according to the agreement. 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.

Lessard came on board at the city on Jan. 3, 2022.

Deputy City Manager Sabrina Cotta listens to a resident at a city Coffee and Conversation session in September at Rogue Valley Roasting Company. Bob Palermini photo

At Friday’s meeting, council directed city staff to put adjustment of the process by which the city manager is replaced on an upcoming agenda, and asked that Deputy City Manager Sabrina Cotta prepare a plan “in the near future”  to get work done in the interim, until a new city manager is hired.

Cotta has been in her post since March 2022. In that time she has also served as the city’s interim finance director from June 2022 to April 2023, and as interim human resources director from March 2022 to April 2023.

Email Ashland.news reporter Morgan Rothborne at morganr@ashland.news.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

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

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