Jeff Leonard

JEFF LEONARD

A long-serving Defiance public official will be extended a new contract for 2022, but he has a retirement date approaching in June after nearly 30 years with the city government.

Mayor Mike McCann informed city council of his plans to reappoint Administrator Jeff Leonard during its meeting Tuesday night. (For details of council’s other business, including the reappointment of another official as well and passage of two ordinances, see related story below.)

Leonard spoke to The Crescent-News earlier Tuesday about his approaching retirement and his time as a top public official in Defiance for almost three decades.

Hired by former Mayor Rita Kissner as the city’s finance director in 1992 after a stint with the City of Bryan and as a state auditor, Leonard, 64, served 12 years in the position before becoming administrator under former Mayor Bob Armstrong almost 18 years ago. At the time, one of Leonard’s goals was to bring stability to the office after seven administrators had come and gone over a 20-year period.

He succeeded in that regard, serving three times longer than the city’s first administrator (Mike Abels) who assumed the office after voter approval in November 1983 of a municipal charter that established a new governing system for Defiance. Six administrators followed Abels before Leonard took over in 2004, but their average stay was only 22 months.

“I’ve had a great run,” Leonard said. “I can remember taking the job as the city administrator, and that I really wanted to bring some stability to the position because we had gone through many administrators. And I think I was able to accomplish that. I’ve met some interesting people along the way ... .”

As the administrator under Defiance’s strong mayor system, Leonard is responsible for overseeing the city’s department heads and engaging with them on day-to-day functions. But he’s also a member of the four-person board of control (finance director, mayor, law director and administrator) which sets city policy and works closely with city council, attending council’s regular meetings on Tuesday nights.

Leonard said he has particularly enjoyed working with McCann who has been aggressive and passionate in his attempts to bolster Defiance’s economic development and quality-of-life options.

“I’ve loved working with this mayor,” said Leonard. “He’s got a lot of compassion for the community.”

Leonard’s time as Defiance’s finance director and administrator spans four administrations (Kissner, Armstrong, McCann and Fred Schultz), so he has plenty of experiences to draw upon when asked about the past three decades. He names a few, including the construction of the city’s Canal Road reservoir in 2007, but his mind goes back to the workers and what they do.

“I’ve always had a great respect for he workforce because they are down in the trenches every day,” said Leonard. “... everyone has worked to make it a successful community, so that excited me. I’ll miss those people who have been in the trenches everyday.”

Although Leonard thinks back mostly to the good things he’s experienced in his time with the city, he also recalls some of the more difficult times. Again referencing the workforce, he recalls days in 2003 when — amidst difficult budget times — the city was forced to cut employees.

“That was horrible,” he said, noting that some were angry. “You have a certain effect on their life. That certainly hit a nerve I’ve never forgotten. It’s taught me you have to ... make sure you have resources available to conduct the business.”

Now that he has a retirement date in mind, Leonard is looking forward to spending more time with family, which includes wife, Jane; daughters Megan and Molly; and two grandchildren, Elliot and Lily.

“I want to spend time with my grandchildren,” he said. “I really think with parents so busy and their work life grandparenting is one of most important things people can do. I want to be able to do that.”

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