Ashland city manager abruptly resigns

By Roman Battaglia (Jefferson Public Radio)
Oct. 25, 2023 11:01 p.m. Updated: Oct. 26, 2023 3:16 p.m.

Ashland City Manager Joe Lessard will be stepping down, according to an internal email sent to city staff.

Lessard was the first permanent manager hired in Ashland after a change to a city-manager form of government in 2020. He was hired in December of 2021.

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Ashland City Manager Joe Lessard speaking at a community forum on Sept. 14, 2023.

Ashland City Manager Joe Lessard speaking at a community forum on Sept. 14, 2023.

Roman Battaglia / Jefferson Public Radio

Few details about Lessard’s departure were provided in the all staff email sent Tuesday. “Joe will be transitioning out of the organization. Timeline and details are still under development and as more information becomes available, I will pass it along,” wrote Deputy City Manager Sabrina Cotta.

A spokesperson for the city declined to make anyone available to comment.

Lessard guided the city out of the pandemic and dealt with a period of financial difficulties.

He’s leaving the city as it continues to struggle with a homelessness crisis, including controversial plans to open a homeless shelter on Ashland Street next month.

Before coming to Ashland, Lessard was a senior planning director at Knudson LP, a planning firm based in Texas. He was also the assistant city manager for the city of Austin for nine years.

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Former Mayor Julie Akins said she had a good working relationship with Lessard.

“I did not find Joe Lessard difficult, divisive,” Akins said. “I didn’t find him hard to speak with. I found him open to other ideas and points of view.”

Akins said she resigned from her position last January because she found it difficult to work with then-city councilor Tonya Graham, who is now the mayor.

“I imagine as a city manager that would be enormously difficult,” Akins said. “I can’t speak for Joe Lessard. And clearly he’s not speaking to it. I can understand his reasons, I didn’t want to speak to it for a long time because it’s rather traumatizing.”

Neither Graham, Lessard nor anyone else from the city agreed to an interview about his resignation.

Graham has also criticized Akins for creating a toxic working environment within the city in past blog posts.

“City government in Ashland is in crisis due to the behavior of our mayor and two councilors, who have together created a toxic working environment for our staff,” said Graham in a blog post from June of 2021.

The City Council has called a special meeting this Friday, Oct. 27, at 6 p.m. to discuss Lessard’s resignation and approve a severance agreement. The meeting is open to the public and will take place at the city council chambers.

Lessard’s original employment agreement called for 12 months of severance pay for the first two years of employment.

According to the internal email, Deputy City Manager Cotta will help during the transition period.

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