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Register • Jul 8, 2013 at 8:00 AM

City manager Nicole Ard hasn’t reviewed audit numbers of the city’s 2013 budget with the finance committee, and members of the committee haven’t heard from her since she missed a scheduled meeting last month. 

“I thought she would have reached out to us to say ‘let’s sit down and have a cup of coffee and talk,’” finance committee chairman Allen Nickles said. “I’m at a loss for words.” 

Ard refused to discuss her absence when asked about it during a June 24 commission meeting, citing a “closed section” of her contract.

She has since refused to expand or clarify that explanation.

She also declined to respond to questions from the Register about whether she reviewed the audit information, saying it was a matter for her, the committee and city commission to review privately. 

At least one city commissioner praised Ard despite the disconnect between her and the committee. 

“(She’s) been on the hot seat from the local newspaper and commissioners (Diedre) Cole and (Wes) Poole, about missing a finance committee meeting last week,” commissioner Jeff Smith stated in a June 28 post at his personal Facebook page. “Let’s look at some facts.”

Those “facts,” however, don’t match information committee members have. 

Smith detailed a comparison of attendance records for past city managers, contrasting Ard’s record with that of law director Don Icsman.

Smith said Icsman missed six finance committee meetings when he served as both law director and city manager in 2010-2011, and Ard “missed only one finance committee meeting” in 2012.  

It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, Nickles said, since the finance committee met 12 times a year when Icsman was city manager and the schedule then was not intended for the manager, a member of the committee, to attend each meeting. 

The current meeting schedule since 2012 is for just four finance committee meetings each year.

“We were in constant contact with Don Icsman when he was both city manager and law director during that period,” Nickles said, adding that Icsman was not expected at the meetings he did not attend. “There was no need for him to attend every meeting.” 

In contrast to Icsman, Ard has not communicated with committee members. The meeting she missed last month was to review preliminary audit information concerning budget revenue projections and expenses. 

The committee also canceled one previous meeting because Ard failed to respond to requests for additional information and documentation during the budgeting process prior to commission approving the 2013 budget, Nickles said. The committee was concerned her revenue projections for the budget were not realistic, and refused to sign off on the budget. 

The committee serves the community on a volunteer basis — for free — and the members of it are CPAs and business leaders in the community who have carefully reviewed the city’s finances for many years. The June 21 meeting Ard skipped was her second no-show without explanation. 

Both Cole and Poole have made an unsuccessful push for commission to provide a performance review for Ard so she can be given guidance on where she needs to improve. Ard, whose annual salary is $126,000, failed to meet all the 2012 goals for her first year on the job that were established when she was hired. 

A professional performance review the city paid for that was part of a contract with a firm hired in 2011 to conduct the search for city manager candidates never occurred. That provision was “waived” during a “meet and greet” with the community when she was hired, Ard has said, but there does not appear to be any record commission did that.

Smith has said there was no such review provision, but it is clearly included in the contract with Novak Consulting, the firm hired to conduct the search. Smith referred to Ard’s contract when he said the provision did not exist.

Smith suggested in his Facebook post that questions surrounding Ard’s failure to attend finance committee meetings and other issues were a “witch hunt.” He also stated his “heart goes out to Cole” concerning excused absences from commission meetings that were granted her. Cole has been helping family members care for her terminally ill mother, who lives in another state, but Smith chided her nonetheless for missing those meetings. 

“Why has the (Register) and these two commissioners not made mention of the previous city manager missing six meetings in two years?” Smith asked. “Why no stories about Cole missing 13 meetings in 2½ years?”

The members of the finance committee raised the concerns about Ard’s failure to attend the meetings or communicate with them. No other commissioner or city official — other than Smith in his Facebook post — ever raised concerns about Icsman or Cole missing meetings. 

The Register also has reported Cole’s excused absences when commission votes occur. 

Smith and commissioner Julie Farrar both have used the social media site to post information about city business and make disparaging remarks about Cole and Poole, complaining when they are quoted in Register news articles. 

Some posts at their Facebook pages have been found to contain numerous inaccuracies, and “friends” at their pages have posted comments based on that inaccurate information, often in hyperbolic tones.

Icsman, Cole and Poole declined comment for this article. 

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