Ard gets last chance

“Failure to meet or exceed these expectations or any display of gross misconduct will result in further action, up to and including termination”
Andy Ouriel
Jan 28, 2014
Sandusky city commissioners gave the government’s top-paid employee an ultimatum: Shape up or get shipped out.

Commissioners on Monday delivered a last-chance agreement to city manager Nicole Ard, demanding she immediately improve upon her lackluster performance or be fired.

Ard, making about $129,000 a year, received the four-page memo after commissioners conducted a private, hour-long meeting.

Watch the public portion of the city commission meeting HERE

The memo, peppered with numerous shortcomings since Ard started two-plus years ago, concluded as such: “Effective (today), you are placed on a 60-day performance improvement plan. During this time, you will be expected to make regular progress on the plan.

“Failure to meet or exceed these expectations or any display of gross misconduct will result in further action, up to and including termination”

The memo ended: “In addition, if there is no significant improvement to indicate that the expectations and goals will be met within the timeline indicated in this performance improvement plan, your employment may be terminated prior to 60 days. Furthermore, failure to maintain performance expectations after the completion of the performance improvement plan may result in additional action, up to and including termination”

Download the Performance Improvement Plan in the pdf below

Among the areas requiring immediate improvement and how Ard must go about it:    

Poor communication skills, disappointing leadership

• Problem: Community members, business leaders and others complaining about Ard to commissioners, specifically how she doesn’t properly respond to — or she simply ignores — their questions.

• Critique: “Due to mixed messages commissioners receive from staff, city departments, (the) community, business leaders, residents, media and local governments about your ability to communicate, respond, offer input and develop cooperative relationships, we question your ability to be an effective, competent and strong leader”

• Goal: Communicate timely, courteously and effectively with all.

• Solutions: Read the local print and online newspaper on a daily basis to stay informed on pressing issues; make yourself available for interviews; promptly respond to all inquiries; take immediate steps to repair severed relationships.

Dismal financial planning

• Problem: Ard’s negligence in addressing a $1.1 million city budget shortfall forced commissioners to propose cuts in rapid fashion without as much input as desired.

• Critique: “You have put the city in a position to make fiscal decisions that could potentially be more drastic to the community at large had prior planning and decisions been made earlier in the process”

• Goal: Prepare budget with city officials and present financial options and recommendations for commission’s approval.

• Solutions: Begin strategic planning on finances with city officials; create about $4 million, or 25 percent of total projected expenses estimated at $16 million in 2014, in reserves; develop 2015 and 2016 expense projections; take steps to fill vacated positions; advertise for new fire chief.

Meager organizational development

 Problem: Ard regularly fails to communicate with other city officials.

• Critique: “Due to misunderstandings and periodic breakdown of communication between department heads and you, there is a sense that department heads are being left out of the decision-making process, and there is an overall lack of teamwork approach to decisions”

• Goal: Create a better work environment with department heads.

• Solutions: Meet weekly with department heads to talk about important issues; generate team-building exercises; strive for clear and concise discussions with staff; schedule weekly department meetings; exchange ideas, information and opinions with others to formulate policies and programs.

Disregard in meeting with other officials

• Problem: Ard’s negligence in meeting with other officials, and making hasty decisions on her own, has created legal chaos and financial disarray.

• Critique: “You have put the city in a position to respond to fiscal and legal issues and challenges that could have possibly been avoided if you would have consulted with them prior to making final decisions related to negotiating union contracts, hiring, firing, disciplining personnel and submitting a budget”

• Goal: Cooperate better with law director and finance director.

• Solution: Meet bi-weekly with both officials, separate from staff meetings, to communicate issues of importance carrying possible legal, financial or public relations ramifications onto Sandusky.

Several commissioners — including the newly elected trio of Dick Brady, Naomi Twine and ex officio mayor Dennis Murray Jr. — have criticized and questioned Ard’s overall management style both during campaign season and after entering office.

Their arrival sparked these talks and memo.

Commissioner Wes Poole, the fourth of seven commissioners, has also voiced disdain with Ard’s performance.

But Ard’s seemingly OK with the trio and anyone else questioning her work ethic.

“I’m hopeful that this is an opportunity to make sure we are on the same page to progress,” Ard said after receiving the memo.



I agree the PIP is a good tool I have to blame the law director too? Didn't she get scolded for NOT talking with him?

Didn't most of the commenters here call poole and cole "micro-managers" when they wrote their evaluations ? Didn't I read in the register that the other commissioners didn't even bother reading the evaluations? Why are the commenters NOT calling Murray, Brady and Twine "micro-managers"?

I must be missing something, am I the only one that feels this is a result of the past "majority coalition" direction given Ms. Ard?

I have to ask, did Smith, Farrar and Grohe agree with this "last chance" or did they come to Ms. Ards defense?


I might have caused a misunderstanding...Ms. Ard needed to communicate and work with both the finance and law directors. The finance director basically did the finance work Ms. Ard was required to lead but failed to do while the law director did not lead the legal work (union contracts, etc.) Ms. Ard was required to lead, thereby resulting in the legal issues. Make sense? Hopefully?

Given my experience in managing personnel, IMHO, Murray, Brady and Twine are doing exactly what they should be doing: managing the City Manager. And if I was in Ms. Ard's shoes, I would want to know who I work with for direction, guidance and feedback. In fact, had I interviewed for the CM role one of my many questions to the Commission would have been exactly that: Is there one individual responsible for giving me direction, guidance and feedback? Or is it the entire commission? I would absolutely want to know how I would be measured as successful and who would be measuring me. I also state that an individual in the CM role should be leading and communicating. Ms. Ard has performed poorly in leading and communicating. She has not clearly demonstrated to the community and commissioners her leadership and management.

If Smith, Farrar and Grohe do not agree with the PIP, I would like to see each provide clear, measurable results of how Ms. Ard has successfully performed in meeting any of the individual line items under each Goal.


agree !


I don't know what to believe. First the Register quotes the commission on what a great job she did the last 2 years. NOW, I read where she is on one last chance? Who is misleading the people? Ard? The past commission? The current commission? The Register reporter? Who should I believe?


@Fireside....why the confusion? I would think YOU of all people wouldn't be confused at all. I remember reading posts from you before when I was visiting and you were quite clear at the time that she was NOT a good manager, so why the confusion now?


There is no way that she should have been hired in the first place. Lazinesss, and lack of respect for others seems to be her constant demeanor!
She should remember that she SERVES the people, not the other way around!


I totally agree but how would they know she was lazy and disrepectful when they hired her? They didn't. when they found out, it was too late. This is why I hate the hiring laws

T. A. Schwanger


After reading this article, the "Critiques, Solutions and Goals" for the City Manager appeared familiar. Then I went back and read the exhaustive and detailed evaluation former Commissioner Cole gave the City Manager a few short months ago and voila--more than similar.


and yet your friend did NOTHING constructive to remove this person from office when given the chance. In fact, she voted her a raise and let her stay. Does not that show that Ms. Cole did not have the strenth of conviction to do the right thing? Or did that stop because she did not get her way in using her own "lengthy" and unproven critique which seemed unnecessary at the time? She doesn't deserve credit for what she didn't do.

T. A. Schwanger


@ slightthroat

Please allow me to explain how the particulars of a functioning City Commission.

There are 7 individuals on Commission. Commissioners Poole and Cole relayed to the other 5 Commissioners their individual observations of the City Manager's job performance or lack thereof. The remaining 5 Commissioners made a decision to ignore Poole and Cole's observations.

You may be new to this issue, or using a different commenter name. Either way, former Commissioner Cole's lengthy and detailed review can be found attached to one of the Register's previous on-line articles for your review.


From what I've read, she needed to be terminated yesterday: just your garden variety incompetence; and in the meantime, she has been given more time to dig a deeper hole for the city!


The PIP process is the correct and legal path to follow. As I wrote earlier, the trend to outcome will be clearly seen in the first two weeks. The trend will be a successful employee will immediately address and show clear evidence of immediate performance improvements whereas an unsuccessful employee will either founder or challenge language in the PIP, or both. And fortunately, the PIP is written well in that it allows for the city to terminate Ms. Ard at any time: "...if there is no significant improvement to indicate that the expectations and goals will be met within the timeline indicated in this Performance Improvement Plan, your employment may be terminated prior to 60 days."


She wasn't qualified, yet they hired her.


Yes. Now I'll leave you to think on your obviously valid point and my just as obvious answer. When you do, I'll bet you come up with the same reasoning I and several others have posted here in days past!

T. A. Schwanger


Interesting read on Performance Improvement Plan


It's an ambush. Good read on a PIP.

From the link, "It sounds like such a positive, constructive approach: Give an employee with performance deficiencies a plan to become a more successful and valued contributor. Unfortunately, performance improvement plans (PIPs) are more often used as a manager's improvised device to sabotage a subordinate's future at the company, an “IED” on your career highway. ..."


what's your point?


The question I have is, "will The SR put out the bait and set the hook?"

The plan's first solution is:
...make yourself available for interviews; promptly respond to all inquiries; take immediate steps to repair severed relationships.

I wonder, has The SR requested the interview?
Has the response been promptly?
Will we see Ard on "Between the Lines?"


If it was my PIP and I wasn't contesting it, I'd approach the Register and ask if they'd like to sit down for an Interview on "Between the Lines".


Me, too. I would be JUMPING on it. Or better yet, calling the Lorain Journal to talk to THEM about an interview and spilling my guts to them. Either way you have access. But I would talk to Melissa Tomey at SR and give her an EARFULL.

Julie R.

Kind of odd that everybody in the city of Sandusky ~ the new city commissioners who just took over 29 days ago and who aren't even really new, the city law director and the city finance director ~ are all doing such a fantastic job, with the exeception of Nicole Ard, isn't it?

Sort of puts me in mind of all the vicious lies that were printed about the elderly Clerk of Court Barb Johnson. In other words, this witchhunt reeks of county public official involvement, just like the slander about Johnson and the Nuesse fiasco did.

It will be interesting to see what the motive is.


Does this mean you believe Ms. Ard has done a fine job as City Manager?


@Julie....the motive is the people of the city of Sandusky and their total disqust with her. rumblings on the street. Her trouble within the departments and her "can't get along" attitude. It's no big secret and it isn't a conspiracy. Everyone down there knows. She did this to herself bigtime. She is pushy and a know it all and she brought herself down. My way or the highway attitudes don't fly

she thinks she is the boss kind of thing and she doesn't have to answer to anyone killed her at the gate. When commissioners asked questions she clammed up and that did her in. No nice nice any more and the gloves came off. You can 't do that with Lang and Murray in there

This won't be the last of it to come. THERE WILL BE MORE


@slightthroat. Did you just fly in from another planet? Lang is a County Commissioner. Geez. Get informed before you ramble on.


Not too long ago, the City terminated Kim Nuesse. Now, we have what appears to be a case of discrimination of yet another female in a top position working under the direction of the "good ole boy network." It surely looks as though there's a pattern here. Nevertheless, Icsman has a conflict of interest and that needs to be addressed immediately. Indeed, it will be Icsman who ultimately benefits from Mrs. Ard's termination.


I disagree with your assessment that either of these instances has anything to do with discrimination against a woman.

I grant you that it always seemed to me that the "charges" against Ms. Nuesse were trumped up so as to get rid of her, but it also appeared that the issues at hand involved her personality and management style as opposed to her ability or her gender.

The accusations against Ard are more widespread, and most are coming from people who have no vested interest in her as a woman, but who DO have an interest in a successful City Manager (residents, for example).

I'd be more inclined to say that Ms. Nuesse and Ms. Ard may have been helped into their positions by virtue of their gender as opposed to having troubles with their job afterward because of their gender. It's the performance on the job (or the lack thereof in Ard's case) in both instances that caused or is causing the problems.


So you want a woman who manages like a man? That type of woman is called a female dog.

I believe the real reason for targeting of both women's jobs is that neither of them know their "place". The same male members of the legal and business communities are involved in this case as were involved in the Nuesse case.

Julie R.

Once again, this reminds me of the witchhunt and all the slander about Barb Johnson right before the $3 million dollar so-called mystery account at Citizens Bank was made public. That account was no mystery and it was also a flat-out lie when the county clowns said Johnson was the only one that knew about it.

I got a feeling the county clowns are involved in this witchhunt, too.

Just a Girl

I've never seen any photo of this woman except for the stock photo above. Since she does NOTHING but speak in riddles, dodge work and questions, and make incoherent statements, I guess the Register can't ever capture her actually in action for a newer photo.

Little Giant

It is sad when we see more pictures of Bigfoot than of our city manager.