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Stick fork in

Matt Westerhold • Oct 23, 2013 at 7:31 AM



After four months bobbing, weaving, ducking and re-grouping, five Sandusky city commissioners finally approved a performance evaluation for city manager Nicole Ard on Thursday.

All that's left is to vote on her raise.

After all those weeks and careful review, commissioners Julie Farrar, Jeff Smith, Pervis Brown, Keith Grohe and John Hamilton summed it up in 127 words, skipping any detail, any depth, any value.

And skipping the dissent.

Evaluations critical of Ard's job performance submitted in September by commissioners Wes Poole and Diedre Cole were not incorporated, discussed, read or considered by commission's majority coalition.

The resulting “consensus” doesn't seem objective or pretend to really understand the complexities of the city's top-paid job. It might be those five commissioners simply don't have the capacity.

They can't grasp it.

The city manager's position is more similar to a traditional mayor's role, more common in city governments.

Except residents don't get to vote for the city manager.

Sandusky city commissioners do.

Or, more precisely, five of the seven commissioners do.

Farrar, Smith, Brown, Grohe and Hamilton somehow agreed what the performance evaluation would state during multiple closed-door meetings, barring the public.

They somehow agreed on the consensus and agreed, in those private meetings, not to read the dissenting views. They did that without voting on anything, because votes, winks and nods during private government meetings are prohibited by law.

Once all 127 words of the evaluation were arranged on the page, just right, they still needed one more private meeting so they could agree — not vote — to remove the last two sentences from the last draft, of their "consensus" evaluation.

Here's what got scratched from the final version: "It needs to be noted that the Sandusky City Commission does highly express that Ms. Ard does need an administrative assistant. That would ensure that she would have sufficient time to devote her expertise to to the running of the City of Sandusky."

Turns out they didn't need to "highly express" that.

The 127 words left in the “consensus” evaluation can be boiled down to just 38: The city manager met all or most of her goals; she made some great hires; she's innovative; she's cool under pressure; she needs to improve her communication skills; she needs to find a way to present information better.

Disjointed, perhaps?

The “consensus” dismisses the 12 goals, dispatching them into oblivion. So much for the $22,000 city taxpayers forked over to develop those goals and the job description. It was good while it lasted.

Farrar, Smith, Brown, Grohe and Hamilton's “consensus” reduces Ard's burden from a dozen goals down to just two, going forward: She needs to improve her communication skills; she needs to find a way to present information better.




Steak gets done; work gets finished.

Here's work that still needs finished. Ard, commissioners, or someone, should consider this list of goals:

*Take immediate steps to repair your relationship with city commission's audit and finance committee and be responsive to requests from committee members for documentation on budget matters. Do not respond to their requests with hand-written notes. Use Excel or some other office programming to present budget information in a professional way. 

*Inform the public of the options that exist for cutting less vital services from the budget to reduce 2014 expenses so as to meet the anticipated $1 million drop in revenue. Get feedback from residents. 

*Determine whether payroll cuts can be made while still filling key middle management positions that remain unfilled. Make a decision.

*Propose options for re-assigning job responsibilities to restore key functions of those positions, if hiring option is determined to be too costly. 

*Engage Bowling Green State University, Sandusky Schools and Trust for Public Land officials in a conversation about the Sandusky Bay Pavilion property as you were instructed: Partner with public institutions to preserve the parkland. Make a presentation to update all seven commissioners and residents on the status of those conversations. Develop a plan to present information and regular updates to the community on this project and get feedback from residents. 

*Begin a public conversation about downtown development; waterfront development; commercial development along First Street leading to Meigs Street and the downtown business district. Engage the members of the pro-development and pro-preservation factions. Do not be controlled by the Sandusky Main Streets association.

*Take immediate steps to resolve the city's lawsuit against Erie County and reach out to county commissioners to repair the damaged relationship. Foster better relations with other the county and with other governments and review all potential collaboration, consolidation or regionalizing of services options — including IT services — that would assist in reducing expenses to meet current and real budget constraints. 

Get moving. 

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