Fact check on Facebook

Sandusky city commissioner Jeff Smith defends city manager's decision to ignore finance committee
Register
Jul 8, 2013

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. 

Comments

Pragmatic

I had higher hopes for Commissioner Smith. Perhaps, it’s my military background that gave me hopes for this Marine to be a good leader, have high expectations, and hold himself and others accountable.

The Marines I worked with were forward thinking and strategic…they couldn’t live in the past and weren’t advocates of the “blame game”.
It’s an elementary thought process to go back in time to discuss what others have done (and haven’t done). To be quite blunt, nobody cares what previous people have done. Those City Managers are gone for a reason and the Law Director has his own issues to deal with. It’s an expectation that the City Manager attends these meetings and if she cannot due to caring for a sick family member – then, ask for a special meeting when it’s possible. It is understandable if she has to care for someone close to her…that’s a part of our humanity. Then, do the right thing and take a leave of absence.

It isn’t asking too much to ask that the City Manager “show-up” in her professional life. Also, beyond what her contract states - - if she really cared about Sandusky, she would go above and beyond what was expected (in her contract) of her in the first place. I have a quote that I repeat to my teenage son often: “Here’s a simple but powerful rule, always give people more than they expect.” Now, it’s embedded in his moral fiber.

All of that being said, maybe it’s time for everyone else to move on too. She didn’t go to meetings and communicate the way she was supposed to. How can we move forward from this?

What I do know is that this City Commission tends to air out their dirty laundry in public. I don’t know if people are trying to be “popular” or show they are the “better” commissioner when they show their division…but, being divided makes them look very weak. If they were running a company in corporate America – the shareholders would be pulling out their investments. Being the “standout” guy/girl on the Commission doesn’t show strength…it’s theatrics. It shows weakness and a lack of caring (and leadership skills) for the bigger picture.

MrSandusky

"Icsman, Cole and Poole declined comment for this article." That is because they are above the crybaby boohoo antics that this article is.

Westerhold is just upset that he and his team can not spin or misquote these statements and that a commissioner has found a way to directly communicate with the masses without going through the Register.

I wonder why Smith is not being praised for having open communications with the citizens he serves? He is using a social networking tool to broaden his reach and communicate with us, that is a good thing!

Commenter

I haven't seen the Facebook Posts personally, however I think there is a line of professionalism crossed by using a personal facebook page to air city business, however if the SR isn't willing to report news that is "fair and balanced" I can see why he would do that. I waiver back and forth between commenting on these articles and not, because I have seen Matt Westerhold's responses and I am unimpressed. He seems a little defensive and arrogant. The Register is not a place for fair and balanced, unbiased reporting of the facts. It is however a place to check the local obits. It's a shame really.

Commenter

This is one of the most well thought out, well written comments I have ever read on the SR Website, better than several articles I have read.

Commenter

Pragmatic's comment that is.

Huron_1969

City officials using Facebook to communicate their concerns and complaints about each other is so lame

Wald

Smith is not communicating his "concerns and complaints". He is communicating facts without them being spun to fit an agenda. It's actually refreshing.

Huron_1969

He states there is a witch hunt..... how else would you categorize it?

Wald

"how else would you categorize it?" As the truth.

Nemesis

And it's not possible for Smith to have an agenda and color the "facts" to fit it?

sandtown born a...

EXACTLY you hit the nail on the head, politics as usual

Wald

He's providing the information word for word from meeting minutes and letters/emails. He's not picking and choosing what to print.

Nemesis

How do you know he's not picking and choosing? Do you have access to his email account?

Wald

I've read the minutes and emails. It's easy to tell nothing has been cut. Plus, I'm sure if something was cut, the editor of the SR would have been the first to point that out (since they were his emails). Read for yourself and see. Otherwise, your comments have no merit.

Pragmatic

Huron 1969: I agree. If Smith had a real (visionary) agenda for the City…he would use real communication mediums where everyone could hear his voice and ideologies. Facebook, at least at this point in history, isn’t that medium. If you have noticed, people (especially in dealing with the workplace) use FB postings as a “passive-aggressive” way to communicate. This way, they don’t have to communicate directly, eye-to-eye with people. Leaders need to be stronger than this.

It seems like all of the Commissioners have their own agenda (yes…it appears to many people in the public that they all have one) - - and, there isn’t anything refreshing about that. Plus, this City Manager hasn't showcased herself to the citizens as genuine leader yet...and Smith is supporting her for that. There must be a reason for that - a reason that many of us aren't buying into.

Adults are always complaining that the “younger generation” uses social media too much and it is interfering with their verbal and direct communication skills. If it holds true for them, then it should certainly hold true for adults who are in public and very important leadership positions.

Wald

FB is a great tool to put the truth out there without the editor's spin. Get out of 1950 and into 2013.

Nemesis

No it's not. Those who don't join FB and surrender their privacy can't access it. Put it on a blog or other public page where EVERYONE can access it. Citizens shouldn't have to surrender their privacy to a private company in order to gain access to their elected officials.

PaulYall

Nemesis, for informational purposes, you have given up your privacy to a private company named "Sandusky Register" when you created your account to blog on here.

Nemesis

Not the same. My comments here are public anyway. Facebook is far more invasive of privacy than any service on the web. Zuckerburg has publicly admitted that he seeks to end all privacy.

Plus, I can read everything on this site without creating a log in.

Home Boy

So...two wrongs make a right???, i.e. "Icsman missed six finance committee meetings". Dahhhh.

Wald

You missed the point. There is precedence for missed meetings, yet the SR never made a big deal of missed meetings until now. That should make you wonder why.

PaulYall

I can hear Matt now " MOOOOOOM!!!! THEY'RE NOT PLAYING FAIR!!! :((( "

PaulYall

Why didn't you use the picture provided for you, like Ards? Why didn't you post one of her with curlers in it or something? Instead you want people to portray him with your childish article with a bad picture and you think its funny! I'm pretty sure I've seen obscene photos of you acting foolish! I should write my own article and use one of them to portray my story as to who you are! Fair is fair right ?

Darkhorse

I don't like the idea that one of the commissioners has set up his own way of communicating. It is inappropriate instead of expressing himself at the commission table where it belongs. He needs to be dealing with the press directly instead making them go through the Facebook page to get an answer from him. I expected much more from this commissioner. I especially don't like it that he has chosen to throw darts at other commissioners especially one that is running for re-election. If Smith is going to degrade a commissioner that is running for re-election, he had better go down the Board of Election to file and put a disclaimer on his Facebook because in my mind, he is running a campaign against this commissioner and he had better make it legal.

PaulYall

As I understand your concerns, stating facts is not campaigning nor is it illegal! SR has edited and taking statements out of contexts and printing them as half truths! Mr. Smith is speaking in his own words unedited! I for one will commend him for that! He hasn't said anything that isn't public information! Mr. Westerhold is mad because he can't make Mr. Smith go thru his Paper. Why does it matter what paper its printed on? I would much read in Mr. Smith's own words then to have the local newspaper write an edited half truth version that is very much misleading! I would much hear it from the horses mouth then a horses a""!

sandtown born a...

I'm sure mr smith is being totally honest and straight forward with his comments!!! YEAH RIGHT ! He is just another politician with his lips moving= half truths

sickofcrybabies

Commissioner Smith at least has the courage to put his name and face on his statements and back them with facts. Unlike any of us who hide behind our witty names and say whatever we want without repercussions. Its true I fall into that group myself. Except I am not running for office, a public official or trying to sell newspapers. There are a few on the commission who will comment on this site and state their opinions all the while hiding behind a false name or try to put their version of the facts out there. Often times the SR will use the idea for a story putting its biased spin on whatever is said. I'm giving thumbs down to both the paper and those officials who hide behind it.

As far as the Facebook aspect of it, there are many elected leaders all over the country who are using social media as a way to get their message out there. Very few I would imagine have their local papers panties in a bunch like Smith does. I believe this is because we aren't able to pick up the Sandusky Register without knowing exactly how the managing editor personally feels about whomever he is infatuated with at that moment. Our news media is far from being unbiased. We all know how Matt feels about Kim Nusse,Charlie Sams, Jake Limberios, etc. whether his feelings are good or bad we know.

I know Mr. Westerhold doesn't like Commissioner Smith. In fact there is an instance of him calling him a Fu@k1nG A H@le in a public setting, because he didn't care for how Smith was asking him questions.

I have gone to Smith's facebook page and I encourage all residents who care to at least take a look. He has posted very interesting minutes to meetings, upcoming events in Sandusky, and answered questions that the public may have after reading an article in the paper. It doesn't appear that he is filling his page with half truth and opinions as he sites and explains where his info came from. Honestly I do not always like what Commissioner Smith does or how he votes, but at least there is an honest attempt to reach out to the citizens of Sandusky. When is the last time you could say or ask whatever you think of an elected official and get a response. So thumbs up Smith and keep working on getting the facts out to the public.

milemarkerzero

I too share Mr. Smith's concern with the mother of a fellow commissioner. But that's still alot of "no shows". By the way, I was walking by Ms. Cole's house a few weeks ago, and noticed a moving truck in her driveway. Is she leaving town?

sandtown born a...

Maybe a bigger metro place???

Huron_1969

Went to smith's Facebook page and read the June and July posts..... another 30 minutes wasted

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