Lesser reflects on family, future in explaining decision to leave Topeka City Council

Mike Lesser steps down from his Dist. 9 effective Nov. 1, 2022.
Published: Oct. 26, 2022 at 6:23 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Topeka City Council member Mike Lesser thought he could announce his decision to leave his District 9 seat, and ride off into the sunset.

What he didn’t expect, he said, was how many people would reach out in the days that followed, concerned his decision stemmed from illness or conflict.

“I underestimated the amount of people that would reach out,” Lesser told 13 NEWS in an interview Wednesday. “I’m fine, my family’s fine, my health is fine. I’m good. Am I okay? No, I’m not okay prior to that because I had too much on my plate. It was emotional and really cool that people reached out to show concern.”

Lesser rose eyebrows last week when he announced his resignation, less than a year after being re-elected to the District nine seat. He simply said he needed to focus on other obligations.

Lesser explained that further Wednesday. He says a job change that has him traveling more, volunteer commitments, family obligations and council work all had his plate piled too high. He discussed the situation with a trusted friend, and came to a conclusion.

“It was time that I had to say no to some things,” Lesser said. “I gave this a lot of thought. I don’t like being average at anything. I want to be good or great at it. I was doing a lot of things okay but I wasn’t, in my opinion, to my expectations that I have for myself. My dad had always kind of told me if you’re going to do something then do it right or don’t do it at all and I’ve kept getting pulled in a lot of different directions, different directions as far as the responsibility of doing City Council right, of doing my job right.”

Lesser said an interaction with his wife one night made it hit home. He walked in the door with the phone to his ear, in conversation with a colleague.

“My wife said it would be nice if you weren’t talking on the phone when you come phone, and that you could be present when you’re present - and she’s right,” he said.

Lesser leaves just 10 months into his second four-year term, and as the governing body hired Steve Wade as the new city manager, a person Lesser championed for the position.

“I think we really are in a good place,” Lesser said. “I think we have absolutely great leadership.”

Lesser became emotional when asked about a social media post by one of those leaders, Police Chief Bryan Wheeles. It thanked him for his service, stating, “Councilman Lesser has been a long-standing supporter of TPD, and his leadership will be missed.”

Lesser acknowledged a tipping point in his decision were recent media reports critical of the police department.

“It made me angry because I know how hard these guys work. I know that these guys get up every morning and they don’t know if they’re coming home,” Lesser said.

As for whoever follows him on the council, Lesser said he hopes they continue working to make Topeka a friendlier place for developers. One other issue he’d like to see revisited: while he said he loves his council colleagues, he also feels they should have term limits.

“I think if you’ve been there for three terms, it’s time to move and time to let another fresh set of eyes (take a turn),” he said, adding his position is not a reflection of anyone who’s served on the council.

Lesser says he’ll step down grateful to his constituents.

“It was an honor and a privilege to serve you,” he said.

He’s also humbled to have been part of a team moving the city forward. He said he will continue to advocate for causes in which he believes, just in different ways.

“One of the tings you have to come to peace with at some point in time in a variety of different things is I can’t - Mike Lesser can’t - solve every problem,” he said. “We’ll see what the future brings. I love helping people. I love that piece of it.”

Lesser’s resignation is effective November 1. The city will take applications from District 9 residents interested in the seat through November 21. The governing body will interview candidates December 6, and could vote on a replacement that same night.