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  • Outgoing Facilities Management director reflects on a constructive career

    Mar 07, 2023 | Read More News
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    Lisa Josker 
    Lisa Josker, second from left, received her retirement certificate at the Feb. 21, 2023,
    Board of Supervisors meeting. With her are, from left, County Administrator Jan
    Lesher, Deputy County Administrator Carmine DeBonis, Sheila Holben, a deputy
    director in Facilities Management, and Board Chair Adelita Grijalva.
    Lisa Josker knew she wanted to be a facilities director before Pima County had even created the title.

    When she was hired by the County in 1985 as a design drafter, the department appeared unceremoniously in directories and budget documents as “the Physical Plant.” It became “Facilities Management” that July in a barrage of department renamings, with the goal of giving the public a better sense of what each department did.

    Josker, who reached her goal of becoming department head in 2016, is retiring from Pima County. Her last day will be March 3.

    Her path to the director’s office was beset with obstacles familiar to any woman in a male-dominated field, especially one on a rise through the ranks. But, as many who have worked with her have attested, Josker is not easily deterred by obstacles — a valuable trait in someone responsible for keeping multimillion-dollar projects on track. In this regard, she built a reputation of excellence in a department vital to the County’s ability to grow and adapt to a changing future.

    A love for buildings

    Lisa Josker, right, with former County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, left, and District 4
    Supervisor Steve Christy during a tour of the Historic Pima County Courthouse during its
    “I love buildings,” Josker said with the kind of earnestness people tend to reserve for things they’ve accepted with certainty about themselves.

    Her love for buildings began in Depew, N.Y., a village of about 15,000 on the outskirts of Buffalo.

    “When I was a little girl, there was this empty lot behind our house. One day, all of a sudden, they started building what would end up being six garden apartments, a three-story building,” she said.

    She became fascinated with the project and its progress.

    “I’d go out and see what they got done each day,” she said. “It was so cool.”

    She stops short of saying it was the moment she knew what she wanted to be when she grew up, but she said, “It was something that stayed with me.”


    "The day I realized I was in the right profession"

    Unlike a number of her facilities director counterparts, Josker is not an architect. But she studied architecture as a young student at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, N.Y., where she earned an associate’s degree in architecture before eventually earning a bachelor’s degree in business and management from the University of Redlands.

    At Onondaga, on the first day of her first architecture class, Josker remembers an encounter with a male instructor that would become an early landmark on her career journey.

    The instructor, who was an architect, pointed his finger at the five women in the class.

    “All you girls,” Josker describes the instructor as saying, “I want you to know you’re in the wrong place. The interior design group is down the hall.”

    “And I just thought, ‘Oh hell no,’” she said. “But that was the day I realized I was in the right profession. That was the moment I knew I was in the right place.”

    Building the right résumé

    Josker spent her first few years in Tucson working for an architecture firm before joining Pima County in 1985. She said it was during those early years, working mostly as a design drafter, that it occurred to her that she wanted to be a facilities director. So, she began charting a course.

    “I did research,” she said. “This was before the internet, but I was reading magazines and things like that. I knew I needed to gain knowledge of different project types, different building types, project management skills and that kind of stuff.”

    She left Tucson for Southern California in 1988 and began doing exactly that kind of stuff.

    Working as a project manager for a major architecture firm in the Los Angeles area, Josker’s assignments included military facilities, hospitals and a wide array of state and local government buildings ranging from police stations to parking garages. A decade later, with an impressive project management portfolio under her belt, Josker returned to Tucson. She took a job in 1999 with a local architecture firm, managing projects for the Indian Health Service in Sells. But she soon returned to Pima County. In 2001, she applied for a management position in the Construction Division of Facilities Management. She got it.

    Returning to Pima County as a leader

    In January 2020, Pima County broke ground for what is now the W. Anne Gibson-Esmond
    Station Library. Among those at the groundbreaking were, from left, Anne Gibson, late
    Supervisor Richard Elias, District 4 Supervisor Steve Christy, Lisa Josker, former County
    Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, and Pima County Public Library Director Amber
    As division manager, Josker got her first chance to show that she could create and work within a budget; supervise employees; develop and enforce policies; and work with other County departments. She also was responsible for reviewing and managing County construction projects, of which there were many, including some of the County’s largest ever.

    In 1997, voters approved $257 million in general obligation bonds for a package of projects that included the construction of new libraries, pools, community centers and criminal justice facilities.

    In 2004, voters approved another bond package for $582 million. The first decade of the new millennium saw a boom of unprecedented scale for capital projects in Pima County. If that project involved the construction, remodeling or restoration of a building, Josker and her team were tasked with seeing it through.

    A 2008 vacancy in the Facilities Management director’s position led to Josker’s first taste of being a department head, thanks to an interim appointment from former County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.

    “Nobody else stepped up,” said Josker. “I did go after the job, but I wasn’t thinking that I would really get it at the time.

    “I think it was a big surprise to a lot of people because I wasn’t an architect. I was really a construction manager.”

    The director’s job ended up going to Reid Spaulding, a man with a background similar to Josker’s. Spaulding had studied architecture in college but worked as a construction manager for most of his career. Prior to being hired by Pima County, he had served as facilities director in the city of Kettering — a suburb of Dayton, Ohio — for about a decade.

    But Huckelberry followed Spaulding’s appointment with a surprise. He created the new position of deputy director and appointed Josker to it.

    Spaulding and Josker began working in their new roles on the same day.

    “It was one of those deals where either it was going to work or it wasn’t. And fortunately, it worked very well,” said Josker, who credits Spaulding with mentoring her as a leader. “Reid and I worked very well together, and he showed me how to be a good director.”

    Spaulding, now a deputy county manager in Maricopa County, had similarly positive words about his former colleague. “Lisa deserves all the credit for keeping the department as well as project budgets on time and under budget,” he said, adding that she also was especially welcoming when Spaulding and his wife were new to Arizona.

    Stepping into the top job

    Josker would serve as interim director twice more before eventually becoming director in 2016. She had worried that not having a degree in architecture might weaken her as a candidate for the top job, but the decision-makers behind the selection, Huckelberry and Deputy County Administrator Tom Burke, had no doubt in her abilities.

    Josker said she remembers Burke asking for her résumé on a Friday.

    “I put it in a purple folder and I put it on his desk,” she said. “He said he’d look at it over the weekend.”

    The following Monday, Burke called Josker into his office. When she arrived, the purple folder was on Burke’s desk. “I want to offer you the position of director,” she remembers him telling her.

    She asked why she was the one chosen.

    “Because I went through your résumé, and I could tell that you built your résumé to get this job,” he told her.

    Looking back, Huckelberry said Josker was the right choice to lead the department.

    “Lisa is a true facilities management professional,” he said. “She knew how to evaluate every facilities request she managed. She met the demand for business office space exceptionally well and within budget constraints. She was just exceptionally successful.”

    Flipping Magic

    Lisa Josker

    Josker’s third-floor office overlooks Presidio Park and a couple of her department’s more recent high-profile projects: the County’s Historic Courthouse and the January 8th Memorial. Both faced gantlets of financing and scheduling difficulties, but both, now complete, comprise a focal point of government and community in downtown Tucson.

    Asked how she approaches problems when the stakes in a project’s success are high and the challenges are seemingly impossible, she laughs nervously and offers the phrase “flipping magic.”

    Insiders call the Facilities Management Department “FM” for short, but “Flipping (or whatever word you’d care to substitute) Magic” is an alternate meaning of FM, deployable when the going gets rough.

    “It’s about being able to pivot on a dime,” said Josker. “Sometimes it’s about having to find a way to do the impossible.”

    Her team was forced into one such pivot in 2012, when the City of Tucson backed out of a plan to house its court system alongside the County’s justice courts inside the new Public Service Center.

    “That was a big challenge,” Josker said, noting that the city’s exit required the County to redesign entire floors after construction had started. “But no challenge is insurmountable if you’ve got the right team.”

    Josker demurred when pressed to name a favorite project, likening the question to that of one’s favorite child. But she described her work on the Historic Courthouse as “a labor of love.”

    “There’s just something about it. That building has a lot of life,” Josker said. “You walk through there and it’s just alive. It’s just so beautiful.”

    Today the courthouse provides the backdrop to the January 8th Memorial, which honors the victims of the 2011 mass shooting that claimed the lives of six people, including federal District Court Chief Judge John Roll and injured many more, including former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords. It was constructed concurrently with the courthouse renovation but faced repeated funding setbacks.

    Former U.S. Rep. Ron Barber, who was Giffords’ district director at the time of the shooting and suffered gunshot wounds himself, served as board president of the January 8th Memorial Foundation and worked with Josker throughout the foundation’s efforts to get the memorial built.

    “Lisa was an instrumental partner,” Barber said. “As with any major project like this, there were many delays to overcome the obstacles. Lisa was patient and effective in resolving the issues. You could not find a more hard-working public servant. I really enjoyed working with her.”

    County Administrator Jan Lesher had similar words of praise. “During Lisa’s career with the County, she’s gone from building hundreds of millions of dollars of new facilities to serve our growing County to having to figure out how to get new life out of aging facilities,” Lesher said. “Her versatility, her energy and her hands-on, detail-oriented working style will be missed. I wish her well in her retirement.”

    Retirement awaits

    Josker planned her retirement date to coincide with that of her husband, Kevin, a civil engineer with the County’s Regional Wastewater and Reclamation Division. Asked about her plans, she laughed and said, “To continue our marriage of 43 years.”

    In a slightly more serious tone, she noted that she has one grandchild and another one on the way and is looking forward to spending time with them. She loves reading and teaching herself to do new things, mentioning she has been experimenting with making silver jewelry.

    Asked about the long-term future, the master project manager draws a blank.

    “What will I do when I start to get bored?” she said, laughing again. “After the house is clean and decluttered, I’m open to suggestions.”