Lehman Looks Back On Career As City DPW Director
Jeffrey Lehman, director of the Jamestown Department of Public Works, is scheduled to retire at the end of March, following a long and successful career with the department.
After 29 years with the city DPW, Lehman said it is time for him to do something else, even though he is not yet sure what that is. Asked about his plans for retirement, Lehman said he is looking forward to not having plans set in stone.
“I don’t know yet,” he said. “I have a few irons in the fire that I’m looking at and we’ll see where that takes me. Maybe the uncertainty is something to look forward to and to spend some more time with my family and maybe a little travel.”
While Lehman has enjoyed his time as the director of Public Works, he explained that the circumstances surrounding his initial acceptance of the job were not what people would expect. Lehman said The Post-Journal played a “significant” role in his acceptance of the position.
“I was interviewing with Dick Kimball, who was the mayor at that time and they offered me the job. I said, I’d think about it, and that I would go home and talk to my wife about it.”
When Lehman arrived home, he pulled his daily newspaper out of his mailbox. To his surprise, news of his acceptance of the job had already been published.
“I opened it up and it said, ‘Lehman takes job as Public Works director of the city of Jamestown,’ on the front page,” he said. “I hadn’t even talked to my wife about it. I was kind of forced to take it and I never looked back.”
Lehman’s surprising start as the director of Public Works was followed by decades of hard work.
According to Lehman, the terrible condition of the streets in Jamestown was the original “premise” for his position with the Public Works Department. However, when he started, he discovered that the city’s infrastructure was also in poor shape. Additionally, Lehman said a couple parking ramps needed to be replaced, and the fleet maintenance building’s ceiling was falling down.
“It was pretty bad,” he said. “The equipment was terrible, really in bad shape. We’ve made great strides over the years and fixed all that, but the struggle continues. We’re a small community and the cost of materials continually goes up, so we’ve struggled to make it work.”
One of the most significant challenges that Lehman faced over the years was the city’s stormwater management. Lehman explained that the city had “pretty significant” issues with flooding when he first started, particularly on the west side of the city.
“We worked with the county around Allen Street and around Bush Industries and put a big pond in up there that was continuously getting flooded,” he said. “I think we’ve made some pretty big strides in that department, but more needs to be done.”
Another accomplishment Lehman is proud of is the city’s work on the Riverwalk. Lehman said the city has “pieced together” the Riverwalk over the years, resulting in a “jewel” for the city that is slowly being discovered by local residents.
Overall, Lehman believes the Department of Public Works has been able to make significant improvements throughout the city over the past three decades, especially with regard to the condition of the city’s streets.
Throughout his time as director of the Department of Public Works, Lehman said collaboration with municipal governments, the private sector and local foundations has been central to the success of his department.
“All these projects were done as a team,” he said. “They could never have been done with without a lot of folks, the team that I have around me, the staff, our managers, the BPU and the City Council. You have to play well with others to fit in with this job.”
While Lehman will be retiring at the end of March, he is confident in the future of the Public Works Department. Lehman expressed optimism that the department will continue to keep going in “the same direction,” resulting in even more progress for Jamestown.
Currently, the city has not selected a replacement for Lehman. Mayor Eddie Sundquist told City Council members earlier this week that the city is “renewing its push” for potential applicants.
Regardless of whoever is eventually hired for the position, Lehman encourages the next director of Public Works to “just stick with it” and continue to accomplish important work for the people of Jamestown.