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.


Dr. Information

Spot on for this area. Don't do your job/get caught with drugs/commit a crime…get a slap on the wrist multiple times before anything is done.


It's. About. TIME! It's only unfortunate the Commission wasn't on top of the problem a whole lot earlier. In my experience, it's a whole lot better to do things right the first time than it is to deal with the fall-out from having done it wrong!


I don't see her surviving.


It appears they are being very specific, instead of vague, about what they expect from her. That makes it easier to terminate her when she fails to perform.


and they couldn't do that in six weeks?????? what the heck. Of course! I wonder how the register got the info?


she dont care she gets paid if she gets fired

Truth or Dare

What a joke, as THEY hired her! THEY can fire her, toot sweet! Why prolong the bleeding? I would have to ask this, what is being done by all Dept. Heads as to cuts throughout all the city, minus police and fire of course. That includes the hands-off Legal Dept.? Our legal, financial and public relations woes started a long time ago, w/absolutely no accountability to the Public!


Next time I think that the committee should really try to find someone that is local. I have not said this in the past, but I think I was wrong in the past.


AMEN, someone with REAL credntials this time that knows what a city planner and manager means that can handle a city and that has worked with people....not a small business manager but a real person that has worked with BUSINESSES as well. This town needs work


Should Ms. Ard not meet the PIP requirements, I would argue the most important aspects to look for in the next City Manager would be a prospective candidate having the skills and demonstrated performance to the same major 'Areas of Concern' as listed in the PIP, namely:
1. Leadership
2. Financial Planning and Management
3. Organizational Development
4. Effective Communication and Engagement with Financial and Legal Senior Management

Better to hire someone who has demonstrated they can lead and manage because they can do so starting day 1 while in parallel they become integrated into the fabric of Sandusky and surrounding areas vs. hiring a local person who can't effectively lead or manage.


Well, it only took the new president one drawing of a directive to effect what the other members of the commission couldn't do as hard as they tried...including Mr Poole. Clean and to the point, I would say. She needs to go anyway. My wife was ready to pass a petition to get her out but repeated questions to the Sandusky Register went unanswered so she wrote it up on her own. Thanks SR for all the help you didn't give her. I guess calling the lawyer helped. He said go ahead and write it and get names then give it to the commissioners. Wonder how long before he called his buddy Murray????? (So got 30 names over the weekend)


Some interesting comments from a 10/2011 article in the SR.


It shows that even then people had their doubts. I wonder if the GOOD one got away from the committee and we threw them back. Like fishing...we should have kept the good fish and we didn't. LOL I just hope this city doesn't get stupid and put someone in there that they shouldn't We have had wayyyyyy too much of that already

the day of the special interest and clicks needs to go

Julie R.

Was that the State Auditor's office that gave Sandusky's finance director an award?

If so, considering how the State Auditor's office was questioning the Erie County auditor's office since 2001 but declined to take any action on it ...... missed the $150,000.00 theft going on in the Erie County Treasurer's office for five years or longer ....... missed the Erie County Clerk of Court's $3 million dollar so-called mystery account at Citizens Bank that the jokes in the county claimed nobody knew about but Barb Johnson (a lie) ...... and even missed the $23 million dollar Cuyahoga County Clerk of Court's account ....... I would have to say any "award" coming from the State Auditor's office is comical!


She's an amateur and in over her head. Just like our current POTUS!!!

Darwin's choice



All you hear is the City needs money, well get rid of Ard, she is the most worthless person on the City's payroll. Can someone tell what she does for $130, thousand dollars. So it's about time the City woke up an realize that this women is for herself and bleed the City of money.


The city commission doesn't seem to be fooling around with this situation. What makes them think that in 60 days she will change if she hasn't changed in the two years she has been with us already? I give it less then 60 days because nothing will change. The commissioners have given her fair warning all along and there have been no changes.


Managing an employee with a PIP is exactly the correct option for the Commissioners to pursue, especially given Ms. Ard received a Successful Review late last year when it was clear there were performance issues not addressed. Additionally, it has been my experience the trend for whether an employee will successfully perform to the requirements in a PIP is established 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.


I'd like to applaud the City Commissioners for very professionally addressing Ard's performance issues by creating the detailed Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), including following the SMART guidelines. I've written several PIPs in the past and know full well the time and effort required to not only complete one, but to manage an employee through the PIP period. The optimal outcome is for Ms. Ard to meet and start showing performance in meeting the measurable goals during the 60-day period followed by her continuing to successfully perform in her role as City Manager.


Not defending the City Manager, but how can the new City Commissioners, in office only 27 days, come to the conclusions they have come to? Did they exhaustively interview city employees for their opinions of the skills of the City Manager?

She is getting the brunt of blame for issues directly tied to the non-action of the last city commission, excluding Poole


I pose this question: If you have the opportunity to review Ms. Ard's 2-year performance against the deliverables set in the PIP, how would you grade her?


If I'm in the City Manager's slippers, I'd be flabbergasted upon receiving this PIP after being given a raving review weeks ago. Can you say legal ramifications?

Also, why is Commish Murray's name the only name on the document? The City Manager answers to all commissioner's if I'm not mistaken.


I can't find her actual Review, but I do remember it enough to say I don't recall it as being a raving review. The Review was a short, one paragraph summary noting her as successful. And I'd be surprised if Ms. Ard feels flabbergasted.

As for the legal ramifications, there is the potential she might very well seek legal recourse. If the detailed required deliverables in the PIP don't fairly well match to what was in her original job description deliverables, or the goals given to her previously, she could potentially sue on the grounds the deliverables outlined in the PIP are totally new and therefore 60 days is not sufficient time for her to be successful in meeting the goals.

I suspect we'll clearly see in the next 2 weeks what will be the eventual outcome, namely Ms. Ard working to meet the deliverables or contesting the PIP.

Julie R.

Ard is accused of dismal financial planning, yet the city's finance director gets an award for his good work. (gee, that makes sense)

Ard is accused of creating legal chaos ~ negotiating union contracts, hiring, firing, disciplining personnel, etc. ~ yet common sense alone would say the credit for that should go to the city law director, Don Iscman.

Oh, but wait. Let's cover up the obvious by saying "Ard should cooperate better with the law director and the finance director."

This is just another witchhunt. The more things change in Sandusky, the more they stay the same.


Julie: You may be onto something. Who pulled the strings in the Nuesse matter and made sure she didn't get a fair hearing by recommending the hearing officer?

Then, did you catch the directive about mending fences with Erie County and facilitating the sale of water through the county to Northern Ohio Rural Water? That's basically an order to sell water to Erie County so the county can in turn sell it to NORW.

OK, you get one guess. What law firm represents NORW and has a history of doing favors for Erie County officials while leading government agencies into disastrous but profitable for lawyers litigation?


where there is smoke there is fire, Julie. But even YOU can't change these people about the lawyers in this town. Corruption isn't just bone deep, its much deeper than that. They will stay until the last hunk of meat is devoured and it isn't nearly eaten yet. LOL.


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?


I don't know that it's quite that complicated. The previous Commission, several members of which DID criticize Ard's job performance, had a majority that came up with that "review" — consisting of only a few sentences — that suggested her performance was good. The only criticism in the "review" was relatively minor, and almost seemed appended just so nobody thought the Commission wasn't doing its job!

Many residents, along with the media, have complained for some time about Ard. So have a couple of the Commissioners as well as at least one VERY important committee (the Finance Committee). It appears that the difference in the Commission make-up was enough to tilt the balance back in favor of reality, and fortunately, was also enough to get the Commissioners moving in the direction they should have been headed in the first place.


I agree with SamAdams' sentiments. Several members of the previous Commission did indeed criticize Ms. Ard's performance but the Commission as a whole somehow decided to give her a Successful rating of her Performance. The current Commission is absolutely taking the right tack.

The City is extremely fortunate the Finance Director and the Finance Committee have moved forward with getting the work done that Ms. Ard should have lead. WRT the legal chaos, Ms. Ard's poor performance coupled with Mr. Iscman's lack of performance led to this legal chaos.

The individual measurable line item deliverables under each Goal in the PIP point to clear deliverables Ms. Ard has failed to meet but must meet or show measurable progress in meeting. The deliverables wouldn't be in the PIP if Ms. Ard had been successful in her City Manager role. And the PIP is an excellent document for citizens to be able to understand what are the responsibilities of a City Manager.


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


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.


Well it seems that the worse kept secret about what the 3 New Stooges... my bad I mean the 3 New commissioners planned as their 1st order of business is now in the open. Dump the city Manager. This farce about giving Ms. Ard one last chance would be laughable if it was not so shameful. No matter what she accomplishes during her trial period will not be enough. Your plan from day one was to fire her. Now you have the 4 votes you need, it is a done deal. Just be honest about the dirty,underhanded deed you are about to spring on Ms. Ard

Julie R.

EVERYTHING done in Sandusky & Erie County is dirty and underhanded.


@humbug...when one does not do their job. what does one expect? I have personal, first hand knowledge that she repeadidly does not keep appointments, blows off meetings and does not interact with department heads. I wonder just what she does do with her time since she seems to always "be on the phone" and yet is never in her office. What would you call it? The third time was the charm for me to reschedule the same meeting. How much would it take for you?


Ah, yes, I see the "I told you so group" is out in force, reminding everyone that they and their croynees said so months ago in so many words that this or that would happen. That they, and only they, such as past council people tried desperately tried to warn the good people of Sandusky that she was no good and should go. But did they vote that way? NO. Did they fire her.....NO. Where were they when nip came to tuck with their convictions????? No where, that's where. They let her sit right there and did absolutely nothing. As usual. They did nothing and said nothing. In fact, they agreed and voted as such and left well enough alone and she stayed in her job and got her raise, so I don't want to hear now that they did a darn thing to stop this. Tooo little way tooo late. Which means they did nothing. It took the new council members exactly TWO meetings to do what that group couldn't do in four years. Why is that?????

So do not come on here and defend what is indefensible and should not be defended. A lack of conviction and lack of action is what happened and it shows. Action and conviction is what is now going on. I suggest to those who see it and don't recognize it for what it is, to look a little harder and try to learn it.

Julie R.

Other than initiating yet another witchhunt against a female, what exactly has your new Sandusky commissioners accomplished in the 34 days they have been in office?


If the commissioners are so concerned about costs and the budget, why not stop the double-dippers as well? Why not get rid of them, too? I do believe the SR brought that up months ago and they were ignored.

Julie R.

Gee, hard to believe that everybody in the city of Sandusky plus all the county public officials are doing such a great fantastic job with the exception of Ard. In the city, it's the law director, the finance director, the new Sandusky police chief, and the new city commissioners that are doing a great job .... and in the county, it's the walk-on-water county commissioners, the judges Tygh Tone & Roger Binette, and the new Clerk of Court Luvada Wilson, who came from the court of Tygh Tone.

Give it a week or two and we'll probably even get to hear what a fantastic job the county commissioner Tom Ferrell's wife is doing as the new county Treasurer!