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.
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.