Is That All There Is?

Topics: Austin, Texas, Austin American-Statesman, Southwest Airlines Pages: 5 (1856 words) Published: October 2, 2014
Is That All There Is?
Joe Lessard Leaving City Post

Assistant City Manager Joe Lessard
photograph by John Anderson The rumors started over a year ago, but it should come as no surprise to those familiar with the protracted pace of city government that it took this long to hear that Assistant City Manager Joe Lessard would be leaving his post at the city of Austin. Last June, when the then-new City Council took a retreat with upper-level city staff, the scuttlebutt held that Lessard's departure was almost imminent, particularly given his noticeable absence from the retreat. "Oct. 1, 1997," was the date most people predicted Lessard would walk. Yet, when asked last year about this alleged impending doom, Lessard laughed it off, explaining that he had his sights set on advancing to the city manager's post one day. Besides, he added at the time, "the city of Austin is as good as it gets." In reality, Lessard's duties were reassigned last June, moving him from oversight of the police, fire, emergency medical services, and aviation departments to focusing solely on the completion of the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. City Manager Jesus Garza framed Lessard's job transition as a necessity because the completion of the airport would require his sole focus. After all, Garza explained, the $700 million project was clearly the largest and costliest undertaking in the city's history. (Garza did not return phone calls for this article.)

One clue that permanent changes in Lessard's career were afoot last year was that his $103,471 annual salary was changed from being paid out of the city's general fund, like the rest of the assistant city managers, to being paid out of the Aviation Department budget. The switch cleared the way for a new ACM, Toby Futrell, to be paid out of the general fund. Futrell also took over Lessard's office at City Hall, while Lessard was shuttled off to new quarters at the airport. Although no one would confirm it for the record then or now, Lessard - once a golden boy protégé of former City Manager Camille Barnett - had obviously been put out to pasture. So now it looks as if that Oct. 1 resignation deadline is going to come true after all, albeit a year later. Though he was quoted in the Chronicle last August saying that it would take "a pretty phenomenal opportunity" to convince him to leave his post prior to the May 1, 1999 ribbon-cutting at the new airport, Lessard recently announced he would leave with no new prospects lined up and, in fact, in a bit of a muddle about what to do next in his life. After 10 years as an Austin ACM and a total of 15 years in city administration, Lessard appears to be caught in a fairly public midlife crisis.

What Next?
To be sure, Lessard's professional roots are fairly entrenched in municipal government. With a master's degree in public administration, Lessard served under Barnett during her ACM tenure at the city of Dallas. Five years later, in 1989, Barnett, as Austin's City Manager, recruited Lessard out of the private sector as her first ACM appointment here. Lessard proudly points out that in his near-decade with the city of Austin, he has overseen 16 different departments and several "very complex, very public, very large projects." While much of his work, such as establishing the Drainage Utility Department and the dedicated street maintenance fee, are the kind of accomplishments only the wonkiest political junkies keep track of, Lessard has popped into the public eye several times in the past several years, and not always in a positive light. Along with his work on the airport, Lessard also had a hand in laying the groundwork for the Austin Convention Center. But he says his proudest accomplishment was the creation of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, a unique land conservation model that began on his desk. Lessard also headed up the Austin Police Department during 1996 and 1997 when Police Chief Elizabeth...
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