UPDATED: Ard evaluation delayed again

City manager’s prior commitment postpones overdue review. (Updated with video of Sandusky commissioner Diedre Cole on Between the Lines.)
Andy Ouriel
Sep 20, 2013
Sandusky city commissioners planned on completing a long-awaited performance review of city manager Nicole Ard on Monday.

But the evaluation faces another delay because Ard informed commissioners earlier this week she can’t attend Monday’s meeting because she’s scheduled to attend a government conference she previously registered for.

Ard sent city commissioners a text message to alert them of her absence. “We’ll just have to wait until she gets back to complete it,” said commissioner Keith Grohe, who’s captaining the evaluation process.

Commissioners originally estimated the evaluation process would take about 30 days when first announced in mid-July.

The delay in finishing an evaluation is frustrating to some, including commissioner Diedre Cole. “I just want to get this process over with,” Cole said. “It’s long overdue, and it’s taking an inordinate amount of time to do something that should have been done months ago.”

Ard, hired in October 2011, still hasn’t received a job evaluation since starting.

“It should have been done in January (2013),” commissioner Wes Poole said. “It’s my expectation that we will complete it as soon as possible.”

Watch Sandusky City Commission Diedre Cole on Between the Lines today


Evaluation time
Ard seemingly doesn’t want to receive an evaluation.

In March, she publicly disputed any notion that she’s required to receive an evaluation.

She indicated someone waived the review clause during an informal gathering weeks before commissioners hired her. There’s no record, however, that anyone waived the provision.

Two city contracts also clearly spell out an evaluation process; Ard’s employment contract and a contract with a firm hired by the city in 2011 to assist in finding a city manager.

A Register analysis published in January determined Ard — whose annual salary is about $126,000 — failed to complete or did not address 12 goals officials established for her in 2012.

Nicole Ard’s goals
A Register analysis published in January determined Sandusky city manager Nicole Ard did not fully accomplish 12 goals set for her in 2012. The story relied on city data and sources.

The goals:
1. Community engagement
2. Prioritize and track projects
3. Improve efficiency and effectiveness
4. Hire police chief, improve department operations
5. Approve balanced budget
6. Create downtown vision plan
7. Outline plan for selling water
8. Progress land rejuvenation
9. Cooperate with nearby governments
10. Develop and implement strategic plan
11. Negotiate three union contracts
12. Update policies and procedures

The story relied on city data and sources to conclude Ard, at the time, did not fully accomplish a single goal. Ard declined to provide any information while the article was being researched, and she has not refuted the information in it since it was published.

Despite her lack of progress, some commissioners fully support Ard.

Commissioners Cole and Poole both already submitted evaluations for Ard that are both critical of her job performance. They have also raised questions about Ard’s performance in public session. Cole said previously that the majority coalition on commission has “dumbed down” the review.

Meanwhile, commissioners Pervis Brown, Julie Farrar and Jeff Smith all have expressed strong support for Ard, as they feel others constantly “beat up” on her.

Grohe and ex officio mayor John Hamilton haven’t expressed a strong opinion either way.



Stumphauzer was a member of the Baumgartner & O'Toole law firm. He was as a partner but not a name partner.

Julie R.

My mistake. A partner but not a named partner until Baumgartner, his attorney son and another attorney up and walked out.


"Where is the record of his oath of office, his contract and the payments made to him? Where are the records for Margaret Cannon who was also acting in official capacity for the City of Sandusky?"

In corrupt Ohio, the public records that you mentioned do not exist or are hidden from public view. Don't bother reporting any Ohio corruption to the Ohio Attorney General or FBI. In Ohio, the Toledo FBI and Cleveland FBI are in cahoots with the corrupt powers that be of Ohio. In corrupt Ohio, the system is set up that a citizen cannot expose the corruption. If a citizen in Ohio sees that a county prosecutor is involved in corruption, the OAG directs that citizen to go to that corrupt county prosecutor and file a complaint. Does that make sense?


I got your evaluation right here! A big FAT F!


She is invisible in the community. Weird.


Nemesis, you missed the thrust of my argument. It's the law director's job to act to avoid lawsuits by ensuring contracts, ordinances, and policies are followed by city employees and City Commission. In my opinion he appears to not meet the standard.

In my opinion, the Ard matter is another lawsuit waiting to happen due the law director's alleged malfeasence. By allowing City Commission and Ard to avoid compliance with her contract by lack of evaluation, there's the potential for future litigation and the City doesn't receive the services to which it's entitled from employees and Commission. A metric by which one can measure a law director is the amount of controversy and litigation on his watch.

Also if it's necessary to litigate, city insurance usually defends the case as part of the policy. The City doesn't need to hire outside counsel, especially friends. If it must hire outside counsel, it should be fully vetted with Commission and discussed prior to initiating or defending litigation.

Finally, it's highly doubtful your law director would make the money he makes for the city in the private sector. I can't see any company hiring him as inside counsel at $135,000 plus benefits which is analagous to his job with the City.

Also, you didn't address the issues concerning the improper and illegal hiring of Cirigliano and Cannon in the Nuesse case not to mention the lack of transparency of expenditures of funds in that hearing process. Why did the City need to use another city's law director to prosecute Nuesse and how was she legally appointed to so the job? How was Cirigliano legally appointed to act as a hearing officer?

To Julie R. Private attorneys for years have been seeking government jobs while holding down private practices for purposes of health care benefits, pensions and the ability to assign contracts. In my opinion they appear to use those government jobs to unlawfully steer contracts for work that they should be doing as part of their government job to their friends or own firms. It is a violation of Ohio ethics law and federal law specifically RC 2921.42,2921.43 and 18 USC 666.

The practice was partially exposed in Cuyahoga County where law firms and lawyers were prosecuted by federal authorities for illegal contracts in the Maple Heights City Schools, the Auditor's office and Construction contracts. Parma City Schools' lawyer and law firm were also exposed but never prosecuted. The firm paid the schools $4,000,000 in my opinion to avoid prosecution and to continue the practice with other government entities. The firm's managing partner is brother to a prominent Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court judge while the lawyer Anthony Calabresse III is the son of a retired Appeals Court and Common Pleas Court Judge. Calabresse was convicted by federal authorities for contract fraud in other matters and is facing county indictments for bribery and contract fraud in a rape case and the Ameritrust building sale in 2005.

I suspect the political power of these law firms with major government practices prevents review. For example, the law firm involved with Maple Heights City Schools and former Auditor Frank Russo's office was led by former counsel to the Supreme Court of Ohio Louis Damiani. His partners included former assistant Attorney Generals and Cuyahoga County prosecutors. Damiani died in 2006 and apparently could no longer call in the political markers to protect the $22 million scam in the Auditor's office.

Similarly, Margaret Cannon in the Nuesse matter was employed by Schottenstein Zox et al law firm which also does a lot of government contract business.

Where do you think Mr. Damiani and his partners learned how to steer government contracts? It also may explain why former Cuyahoga County prosecutor Bill Mason claims not to have known of the corruption despite the fact that there's a paper trail of reports concerning school and other contracts.

Do you think similar blindness to unlawful activity occurred in Erie County government with Metro Parks, Island Express, Nuesse case, McClung stolen gun case etc when it involves politically connected law firms?


Excellent comments!!!! You know some things that Ohio newspapers refuse to report with their selective news reporting. The public records in Ohio are available to Ohio newspapers to expose the corruption but that is if the newspapers or news media wants to.

The American news media refused to report all of the facts about operation "Fast And Furious" illegal gun running. It took a Mexican news media to expose the truth for Congress to take action. I see that not much has been done about the illegal gun running.


There is also that Sandusky, Ohio housing scandal that seems to have been buried. Out of sight and out of mind. Most people in Ohio seem to forget what happened last week.


While you're correct that the law director's job is to HELP the city avoid litigation, he has no power to compel action by elected officials. Sometimes people can't be protected from themselves. If the commissioners are bound and determined to do something that is actionable, sometimes all he can do is tell them "don't say I didn't warn you."

When litigation happens, the commissioners and the insurance carrier are likely to defer to the law director regarding choice of counsel. He's the one who knows who are the best at what's needed in the area. The insurance company may be out of state, and have no idea who's who in the local legal landscape,

Regarding what the law director could make in the private sector, $135K is chump change, A litigator can make more than that in fees off a single half million dollar judgement.

While members of private law firms may accept law director appointments, especially the part time ones common in smaller cities, no law firm will let their best "gunslingers" waste time sitting in a law director's job.


Your comment is disingenuous. It is his role to advise Commission to follow the law, policies and enforce contract obligations. No commissioner would ignore counsel from the law director to enforce contracts or violate the law or policies.

The problem is he doesn't advise the Commission on anything but lets problems develop so turmoil ensues and the city wastes money on litigation.

And a law director is not a litigator but similar to in house corporate counsel for a company. Please stop comparing law directors to litigators. Again no private company would hire him as in house counsel for $135,000 plus benefits.


Right, because no politician ever went off the rails. No city council ever did something blatantly unconstitutional. Riiigggghhhttt. Especially a bunch of buffoons like the Sandusky City Commission.

Your last paragraph is exactly my point - in house counsel doesn't defend lawsuits either - they call in gunslingers from outside. And by the way, I am very good friends with someone who, as in house corporate counsel, easily doubles that rate.


Of course you're good friends with an in-house counsel who "easily doubles that rate". My guess is it's the former law director who is in house counsel at a very large and powerful company. That's not remotely equivalent to a small city law director.

Again, my point is the chaos in Sandusky is due to an incompetent law director who is not proactive and is not doing his job. Seriously if Icsman is so good at his job why did Murray and Murray let him go?

Truth or Dare

l. Marina District Project and a large un-deposited check

2. Nuesse Fiasco

3. FEDERAL Housing scandal, costing taxpayers $3 Million and still no answers. Must be the local office investigating? Or, there is no real investigation, let alone plans to prosecute anyone for that theft. How are those homes coming along?

4. A court system and PD with questionable practices, so much so it brings the ACLU to town.

5. Re-elected/elected/back in town to run again after scootin' out of town after the above mentioned City Commissioners w/personal agendas that hire puppets as City Managers. The kind of managers that have no problem with derogatory words and seem to think they don't work FOR THE PEOPLE, nor should have to answer to THE PEOPLE.

6. Law Directors offices, Rent-a-Judges and lawyers from the east that our tax $$$$'s have/are going to, of which the information regarding that $$$ amount is with-held from the public.

Gee I don't know, anyone notice a pattern over the last 10 yrs. easy, let alone are you really surprised at the fact that no evaluation has been done? They evaluate her, they're evaluating themselves. All the more reason I don't give out courtesy votes like they're political kisses for babies, and will be voting for ISSUES only. I will never cast another vote for a City Commissioner, and can only hope and pray we someday will go to a Mayor/Ward system.


The City Commission managed to find an excuse to fire Rick Finn, but the reality was a lot more straightforward than any alleged conflict of interest: The Commissioners HATED him because he actually did his job the way it was supposed to be done.

The City Commission managed to run Mike Will out of town. Will TRIED to do the job the way it was supposed to be done, but was shut down and/or reprimanded and/or made to jump through myriad hoops to accomplish ANYthing.

The City Commission HAD to get rid of the last City Manager because, though he often appeared to knuckle under to Commission commands, he also had other issues that were made public enough that he couldn't keep his job.

Now the City Commission has hired a City Manager that is, in many ways, PERFECT for the job. She doesn't do much, if anything. She's unavailable to the public. She's unavailable to the press. She's apparently unqualified (look at all of the uncompleted or untouched projects on her "goals" list). And we've got a bunch of Commissioners, NONE of whom are qualified as a City Manager, managing the City. No WONDER we've got an even worse mess here than in the past. And no wonder five out of the seven Commissioners don't seem to have any problems with Ard!


I agree with your comments with the exception of that regarding Rick Finn.

Finn was investigated and found to have violated ethics laws. His case was referred to Baxter. Baxter in turn called in Dean Holman as special prosecutor. He declined to prosecute.

Importantly, at this time Baxter and his company Island Express had grant, loan and or contracts pending with the City, State and other government entities. I think there was a quid pro quo: Finn is not prosecuted in exchange for not outting Baxter's conflicts of interest and ethics violations, or abuse of office.

As I recall, at least one City employee objected but was ignored. Maybe older readers remember more than me.

On the other hand you may be correct. Perhaps Finn was set up on the ethics charge to get him out of the way for Baxter and his company which included investors with ties to a local powerful company.

The law director at the time now serves as in house counsel to the same powerful company.


The ethics charge against Finn was made based on allegations of a conflict of interest. Finn hired on as a consultant to another city in Ohio for which he received a fee. The problem? His consultation had nothing to do with Sandusky. He consulted entirely on his own time. Oh, and did I mention? He ASKED before he did it.

If there was any quid pro quo, I don't know about it, but then most of us wouldn't. Would it surprise me if you were right about that, too? Nope, sadly, it wouldn't.


"On the other hand you may be correct. Perhaps Finn was set up on the ethics charge to get him out of the way for Baxter and his company which included investors with ties to a local powerful company."

The Ohio powers that be protect their own. Perhaps Finn was set up because he didn't want to go along? Perhaps Finn was not prosecuted because he had dirt on others?

News about Finn




The above links are about Finn. There are more if the readers want to search the internet.

I bet that Finn had a lot of information on the powers that be who control what went on behind closed doors in Sandusky, Ohio. I don't blame him for moving out of corrupt Ohio.

T. A. Schwanger


Finn and freedom of speech


why don't they just fire her and get it over with. That should satisfy all the people who so desperately want her out of this job. Then the city can waste MORE taxpayer money on a new search for a city manager and we can go through another stupid seek and destroy mission like the one the city did for a police chief that will end up JUST like the police chief thing did. Who does the SR, Poole and Cole have in mind this time for City Manager? Oh, please don't tell me its TA Schwanger or Haag. I want to see this city get something done besides "green spaces" and parks. Could we at least get someone who knows something about city planning and is QUALIFIED to run a city this time? I hope so...not just someone good at math, but someone who is TRAINED in city work. Not just good at running a business. No offense to the two mentioned but it takes more than running a business or a committee to run a city. I don't think they realize that and playing at it with the paper's favorite commissioners isn't going to get it done either. One of them is going to be out of a job come November.

So if Ard goes, lets get a real trained city manager who is worth the pay or worth a REDUCED PAY SCALE until they prove themselves.


Isn't Ard trained and considered a "professional" City Manager?

Take a good look at where we are 18 months after hiring the City Manager. What new ideas and programs has she brought forth? The only programs and projects being worked on are those already on the books prior to her hiring.


I've previously taught numerous classes, with two subject areas of note being in Performance Management and writing good Requirements Documents. When I read Ms. Ard's contract, I cringed.

Section 12: Performance Evaluation. The Employer will endeavor to annually review the performance of the Employee subject to a process, form, criteria and format for the evaluation which shall be mutually agreed upon by the Employer and Employee at or near Employee's Anniversary date.

"shall endeavor" is not definitive, meaning there is absolutely zero requirement for the Employee to be annually reviewed. From a management standpoint, I don't know that I've ever seen review criteria where the Employee must agree on a process, form, criteria and format for their review, and I would offer it is not good management practice to allow for an employee to say yes/no on process, form, criteria and format. Management needs to develop the review & delivery process. Following is a suggested rewrite of the first sentence: "The Employer is required to conduct an annual review of the Employee's performance utilizing a clearly defined, documented and communicated evaluation process, form, criteria and format. The annual review is required to be completed within a two week time frame of the Employee's Anniversary date."

And by the way, with Ms. Ard's contract language written as it is, her public dispute in March of any notion that she’s required to receive an evaluation does, unfortunately, have some merit.

Also in Section 12: "The final performance evaluation should be completed and delivered ...". Again, not definitive.

"Employer shall provide the Employee a reasonable and adequate opportunity to discuss with the Commission and/or respond to the Employee's evaluation." Who defines what is a "reasonable and adequate opportunity"?

In summary, Ms. Ard's employment contract as written has serious flaws. There are simply too many ambiguous terms she or her lawyer can exploit to Ms. Ard's advantage.


You make many excellent points. So who was responsible for drafting the contract, reviewing the contract, and recommending the Commission execute the contract? Might it be the City Law Director?

This ambiguous contract proves my earlier point about the law director. He's creating work for other lawyers.


2Timothy, I haven't the foggiest who wrote the contract, but if the law director was involved, then you are correct: he's now creating work for other lawyers.

I'm not a lawyer, but I do know how to write clear, concise, and complete documentation. It wouldn't take much to rewrite the City Manager's contract with clear, concise and complete language.


OSU, thank you for posting your comments. I found this online employment agreement that is not signed. It might take a couple of minutes to down load the document.