Sandusky city manager Nicole Ard ducked a finance committee meeting last week and continues to duck questions about the city's tenuous budget and other issues.
Commissioners Diedre Cole and Wes Poole both raised questions Monday but got little response from Ard before being shot down by the commission majority.
“I would probably refer you to a closed section in my contract,” Ard said, responding to questions from Cole and Poole about missing the finance meeting.
Commissioner Pervis Brown upended the discussion during the public meeting Monday but offered additional response Wednesday in an email. He suggested other members of the finance committee were at fault for expressing concerns that Ard missed the finance meeting.
"If the city commission wants to change the rules for this committee, or any other board or commission, they must be changed at a public meeting," Brown wrote. "Hopefully the members of the Audit/Finance Committee will direct all future inquiries directly to the city commissioners and let us deal with our responsibilities to the citizens."
Ard is a member of the finance committee and presumably fills the role to inform commission, so it's not clear what point Brown is making, or what rules he believes need to be changed.
Brown offered a similar, disconnected explanation last year when Cole raised concerns about the police chief search Brown led.
"If you're not comfortable with the process, change the charter," Brown snapped back at Cole during a commission meeting Aug. 13, calling her inquiry about the search "reprehensible." Brown twice blocked the committee from placing then-Sandusky police Lt. John Orzech's name on the short list of recommended candidates and the search process was later determined to have been unlawful.
Orzech was named chief in April, a year after Brown was appointed to lead the search. The search cost taxpayers about $33,000.
Cole said she intends to make sure members of the finance committee get the opportunity to fully inform commission on the 2013 budget and funding cuts that are imminent despite whatever rift exists between the committee and Ard. She expressed "irritation" when asked about Ard's tepid response to her questions on Monday.
"The finance committee members are experts on the city's budget," Cole said. "I'm not an expert and neither is any other member of city commission, or Ms. Ard. The committee members volunteer their professional services and we need to listen to them. Let's do that and move on."
The finance committee members are: Brent Gardner; Dave Hoffman, CPA; Al Nickles, CPA; Jim Ruthsatz, CPA; Brian Allen; former city commissioner and ex officio mayor Craig Stahl; and ex officio mayor John Hamilton.
Hamilton also did not attend the finance committee meeting and did not inform the committee he would be absent. Brown serves as Hamilton's alternate to the committee, but he also did not attend or inform committee members.
Ard has not clarified what she meant by the "closed section" of her contract that she referred to on Monday, and commissioners don't seem to know either.
"It's a public contract," Cole said. "I don't see anything in it that would stop her from answering simple questions. The city's budget is a top priority for commissioners."
Commissioner Poole also seems unclear what the majority coalition on commission wants.
"The (finance) committee has been diligent and effective in their service to the community," Poole responded to Brown's email. "What is your point?"
Ard and other commissioners declined to respond to questions.
Ard suggested discussions about the budget with the finance committee should be between the committee and the commission and not involve the public.
"The nature of the questions you ask are for discussion by the Commission or between the Committee and Commission liaison," Ard wrote in response to an inquiry from the Register.
She also repeated that she would provide more information later.
"As I noted last week, you will have a letter this week," Ard wrote in the email on Wednesday.