Ashland city manager resigns, special session expected

MEDFORD, Ore. – Ashland’s city manager is resigning his position.

He’s been in the position just under two years, but a lot has changed in that time. The Ashland City Council is holding a special session this Friday, to discuss Joe Lessard’s resignation.

It isn’t known yet why he’s leaving, he declined comment through a city spokeswoman.

But what is known, is it’s been a busy couple of years coming out of the pandemic for Ashland.

Joe Lessard was first appointed Ashland City Manager in December of 2021.

One of his main focuses coming out of the pandemic, was to strengthen the city’s struggling tourism-focused economy.

This January, the city held a town hall meeting with Ashlanders, to cover a variety of topics.

City Councilor Gina DuQuenne felt the city’s budget should have been the focus.

DuQuenne said, “I wish that the seven topics had been more on point, to see how we can truly impact our $4.3 million deficit. That’s what we need to talk about.”

Months later, in May, Lessard told us the city’s budget was promising for the next two fiscal years.

Lessard said, “this year, again, we have a balanced budget. We are in a strong financial position. The recovery of the economy has really helped Ashland and so we’re really optimistic about the next coming two years.”

But as summer came to a close, the city settled a lawsuit by a former Parks employee.

Laura Chancellor was among a group alleging a ‘boys club’ type of atmosphere in the department.

That settlement cost $700,000 but the city said it addressed all claims without an admission of wrongdoing or liability.

A month later, the city went $300,000 over its roughly $1-million budget on the Japanese Garden remodel in Lithia Park.

Leslie Eldridge, the Interim Parks & Rec director said, “it’s a really good lesson to be incredibly conservative in budget planning moving forward.  To move methodically and systematically through projects.”

While finances were much of the city’s focus this year, its city leadership has also undergone a dramatic change since Lessard’s hiring.

The mayor and a city councilor both resigned in January.

Councilor Shaun Moran said in his resignation letter that the budget was a concern and “there continues to be no interest or sense of urgency in addressing and solving these critical issues.”

The city’s recorder then resigned in April and it’s longtime Parks and Rec director, Michael Black resigned over the summer..

Lessard was selected as Ashland’s first city manager since a charter amendment was passed by voters in 2020.

It changed the form of the city’s government from mayor-administrator , to council-city manager.

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Maximus Osburn is a reporter for NBC5 News. He studied at California State University-Northridge, graduating with a degree in Broadcasting. Maximus is an avid martial arts enthusiast and combat sports fan. He even traveled to Thailand to train with martial arts experts. Maximus loves movies, nature, and doing things outside his comfort zone, like swimming in sub-freezing lakes in the winter.
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