Former city manager sues Sandusky

Nicole Ard seeks year's worth of salary
Andy Ouriel
Jun 24, 2014

 

ouriel@sanduskyregister.com

Updated (10 p.m.)

Nobody's lonely at City Hall — at least not charter officers or Sandusky city commissioners — after former city manager Nicole Ard filed a lawsuit Monday against all of them and the city.

Ard contends in the lawsuit she was wrongfully terminated — without cause — and is demanding a full year's pay, about $129,000. 

She’s also fighting for continuation of her health insurance benefits program.

“There is no valid excuse for (city officials’) refusal to pay the salary continuation and health insurance benefits owed to (Ard),” according to the lawsuit.

Ard was fired in March after a split 4-3 vote by commission. She had been city manager for just over two years. The city cited her failure to meet expectations set out in a performance improvement plan adopted by commission earlier this year. 

Commissioners, who discussed the lawsuit in an executive session Monday, opted against public comment after the meeting.

Ex officio mayor Dennis Murray Jr. spoke briefly about the lawsuit late Monday.

"The city believes the lawsuit to be without merit and intends to vigorously defend it," Murray said.

The Register obtained a copy of this lawsuit through a public records request.

Among the defendants it lists: Murray, Dick Brady, Julie Farrar, Wes Poole, Scott Schell, Jeff Smith and Naomi Twine; finance director Hank Solowiej and law director Don Icsman.

Murray, Brady, Poole and Twine voted to fire Ard.

Smith, Farrar and Schell voted against the termination.

Commissioners vowed to streamline the hiring process after Ard was fired, and two months later the seven voted unanimously to hire Eric Wobser, executive director of Ohio City Inc., a nonprofit community development and neighborhood revitalization agency in Cleveland, to be city manager after an accelerated search for a new leader.

Wobser, who is from Sandusky and other parts of Erie County, starts July 7. 

 

Original story:

Former Sandusky city manager Nicole Ard filed a lawsuit on Monday in Erie County Common Pleas Court, alleging all seven city commissioners unjustly fired her.

She wants to obtain roughly $127,000, equivalent to one full year's salary.

Pick up a copy of Tuesday's Register to read more about it

Comments

holysee

PAY HER NOW OR PAY HER AND THE LAWYERS LATER

margaritaville88

Who didn't see this coming?? Yet another one that thinks they are 'entitled' to something for nothing....PATHETIC!!!

JT Adams St

She signed a contract providing for severance. And, as recently as October 2013, she received a favorable performance review. Nothing happened between October and Murray taking office that would constitute "just cause" for termination. The fact that he had his heart set on firing her, in spite of her positive performance evaluation, doesn't constitute "just cause." So, under her contract she is entitled to severance. That's the deal the city made to get her to come here. And, they all knew, or should have known, at the time they fired her that they were going to have to honor that contract. Which raises the question: why did they offer an even juicier severance package to the new city manager?

Babo

I agree with you. The Mandamus Complaint is well drafted and sets forth the fact that the City did not comply with contractual provisions regarding termination for cause.

After Ard obtains her decision from the Court finding the contract valid and that the City breached it's terms look for the real litigation to occur in federal court.

Ralph J.

LIKE

Whiskey in a Teacup

Your asking the right questions ...

Ralph J.

LIKE. For some odd reasons, I keep triggering the SPAM filter when I post the one word "LIKE". How about a LIKE and DISLIKE button?

reader

I wonder what Mr. Murray's track record as an attorney is ? It sure seems from reading the court documents the decision to fire Ms. Ard was mishandled and the decision to not pay her severance pay and benefits just plain dumb, besides being mean spirited.

YoMamma

Is the city run by Dan Gilbert?

dont get it

lol

SamAdams

Surprise, surprise.

As far as I'm concerned, Ard didn't live up to her contract and should have been terminated even before she was. Despite the fact that the vote was divided, it appears the Commission majority followed right along with all of the proper and necessary procedures to sever the contract. In fact, they followed the contract itself, the very same document signed by Ms. Ard!

It seems that a whole lot of people these days spend a whole lot of time blaming others for their own failings. Sadly, it's often less trouble (not to mention less money) to just pay someone even more to go away than to go to court. Assuming the City has its ducks in a row -- and with a City Law Director on staff and a lawyer leading the Commission, it had BETTER have its ducks in a row! -- I hope there's an exception to the rule and the City stands its ground.

margaritaville88

LIKE!!

fluffy

I had heard the same thing from individuals at city hall. She just wasn't getting the job done. In fact I'm still waiting on a phone call from her reguarding the city's bicentennial. No follow through was being done on a lot of stuff.

Justwow

Haha. What a joke woman. Go get another job to pay your bills. If you would have done your damn job, you wouldn't be in this predicament. Get off your lazy ARD as* and get a job.

God Of Thunder

Holy crap I'm shocked!!!! I can't believe this!!! ( He says dripping with sarcasm, after he has seen her walking by him with her nose in the air and the 2 little mutt dogs she walks). I hope she gets nothing.

From the Grave

I want money too.

DickTracey

I think the city should respond on a torn off corner of yellow notebook paper.

Just scribble some notes on it and bring it to the meetings like she did her budgets.

samiam

In crayon too.

WeThePeople1965

Ha! If only we all were paid after we were fired. We'd have no problems! It's not like she was laid off... The money was nice, huh?

eriemom

Read the complaint. Without reading the actual contract it seems that she has a case.

samiam

To quote Gomer Pyle...Surprise, Surprise, Surprise! NOT!

WeThePeople1965

'Pay severance.' You weren't laid off.

reader

Remember how Mr. Murray responded when asked about the severance payment called for in her employment contract. Something about this commission isn't bound by something a previous commission agreed to.

We'll see how this plays out.

Whiskey in a Teacup

Here ye, here ye!
The current commission is not bound by contracts.
Done.

Stop It

Does anyone there know how to align a document on a scanner?

JMOP's picture
JMOP

Hahaha!!!

Julie R.

Good for her. The city of Sandusky ~ just like those jokes at the corrupt Erie County courthouse ~ think they can do any dirty thing they want to people if it's legal or not.

By the way, it doesn't say who her attorney is. Does she have one? Hard to believe she found an attorney in this corrupt area to fight against a Murray and the joke Erie County courts.

LookingDown

Surprise on your take (rolls eyes)

Julie R.

The firing of Nicole Ard was so obviously pre-planned it was pathetic. The hiring of this Eric Wobser was all planned out, too, even before Ard was fired.

WhatTheHeck

Julie I feel the same way!

Ralph J.

LIKE DITTO

Julie R.

I would be curious to know who the city of Sandusky has insurance with. Whoever it is, they're either a glutton for punishment or Sandusky is paying triple in comparison to other cities.

Dwight K.

She obviously got fired because she's African American and a woman........

FredDoobler

Don't forget an amateur and was in over her head.

Nam Vet

No. That's why she was hired.

Darkhorse

Another lawsuit. It is a wonder the city can get any insurance at all. The city makes its own problems. I think things are about to get interesting.

Stonecrusher

Oh brother...she had this set up from the beginning. A totally ineffective and incompetent manager now wants to be paid for her ineffective style and her total incompetence. Once she gets paid, she'll find another employer who will in turn end up cutting her loose. Very typical of our society these days..."Wasn't my fault...blame them!"

Julie R.

Yeah, right (sarcasm) .... she had this set up from the beginning when she applied for the job and was hired, that she was going to pull up roots and move to the city of Sandusky, all so she could file a lawsuit when they fired her less than two years later.

Dwight K.

What did she do before being the city manager?

Whiskey in a Teacup

Assistant town manager from Hillsborough, NC..16 years government experience _ I remember she was "well spoken" so it appeared she has "the staying power"...according to commission.

lunchtime 175

Why would the city hire someone from Cleveland and not a person from Sandusky??? Sounds like they wanted to fire her to give the job to someone that they already knew??? Or just because she is black that is why they fired her??? I am sure a investigation will go on to find out who and why this was done and maybe they will even reinstate her?? If they cannot prove that she did anything wrong during her term then yes she is owed back pay, etc.

Really are you ...

So if I had signed a 20 year contract with the US Army. And I got discharged, "fired," after five years, I could have sued the military?

From past article I take it Mrs. Ard was not doing her job, missing meetings...

What was she a manager of before she was a City Manager? Manager of a Day Care? A misleading resume, or application?

SamAdams

Okay, those of you with legal backgrounds, please tell me: Is failure to adequately perform job duties NOT "just cause" for termination any more?

Added note: Those of you who mention the "performance review" Ard received last fall are conveniently forgetting it was a whole lot like one of her budgets. It was just a few scribbled lines offering no details on the good things she'd done, no comments on areas in which she needed improvement...in fact, it offered no details. Period. THAT'S not a performance review, kids, let alone evidence that her performance was acceptable! It was a sop offered up when The Register (and others) questioned Ard's lackluster performance and made note of the fact that she'd not received any required reviews up until then.

Babo

You need to review the contract. It had a specific section on termination for cause and it was not followed according to the complaint.

Her contract was negotiated and extensively reviewed by several lawyers. Her complaint is asking the Court to enforce the terms of her contract that the City and she bargained and agreed upon.

It's actually a pretty clear cut case.

You should be angry with all the lawyers who decided they want to waste more money by not honoring the contract and incurring litigation expenses.

Sandusky will end up paying more to the lawyers then what they appear to owe Ms. Ard.

JT Adams St

Who says that she failed to adequately perform her job? She had a performance review, and according to the performance review, she was doing a fine job. You might not like it. The Register might not like it. But it was a favorable performance review, presumably covering her entire tenure as city manager. How can the city plausibly argue that her job performance deteriorated so dramatically between that performance review and the process initiated by Murray that the city fired Ard for just cause? Also, "just cause" was not the stated reason for her firing, which was opposed by 3 commissioners. Instead, Murray said that he wanted to move in a "new direction." If moving in a "new direction" constituted just cause, nobody would ever receive unemployment benefits. Finally, you'll recall that after Ard was fired, and Murray was asked about her severance package, he didn't claim that Ard was fired for "just cause." Instead, he claimed that the new commission wasn't bound by contracts signed by the old commission. So, he effectively admitted that he knew that he hadn't established just cause for terminating Ard's employment. In sum, the whole process of firing Ard was a dog and pony show, abetted by the Register, designed to deflect blame from Murray and Brady when Ard demanded her severance package. Apparently, it worked. But the gullibility of Register readers is not going to keep Ard from getting paid.

Ralph J.

I would like to see the wording of Ard's contract. Also what kind of legal advice did Icsman give Ard in the performance of her duties. It's very possible that Ard was set up to fail. She is given a performance review that is favorable as recently as October 2013 and then fired when new city commissioners come board. This should get interesting as it plays out in court.

Babo

Here's a link to her contract http://www.sanduskyregister.com/...

Ralph J.

Thank you, Babo.

Tsu Dho Nimh

Looks like section 9E is in her favor. Maybe Murray should read the contract before making comments on the lawsuit.

Whiskey in a Teacup

This is where, as it was discussed awhile back, that words like subjectivity and objectivity will get thrown around.
I think it would be interesting to view the contract_ and compare it to the one approved for Wobser.

MissySams

REMARKABLE...This woman doesn't do her job, gets fired, then expects to be compensated for NOT doing her job??? At least she didn't say she was fired because she was black!!!!!

Ralph J.

Newspaper reporters are human and their news reports are often subjective. Two news reporters may write about the same event and write two different news pieces. News can be subjective or objective. Also the two news reporters may ask other people, often different people, about their take of the event. Are the opinions of these people based on fact, hearsay or unsubstantiated information?

Subjective information or writing is based on personal opinions, interpretations, points of view, emotions and judgment. It is often considered ill-suited for scenarios like news reporting or decision making in business or politics. Objective information or analysis is fact-based, measurable and observable.

http://www.diffen.com/difference...

Whiskey in a Teacup

Ahh_ I hadn't read far enough

sash

The problem is most readers will believe they are reading either a subjective, or objective story based on where and how it's presented. A reader will expect a subjective view when they are reading an opinion piece or an editorial, but they expect an objective presentation when reading a news story. Readers deserve an objective presentation of facts with a clear distinction made between known facts and allegations. Sadly, the printed word seems to be following the "spin" that now passes for broadcast news.

deertracker

Either way the city loses here. Pay her or the lawyers!

Julie R.

I see that Ms. Ard's attorneys are from the Columbus area. I would really be curious to know if she tried to get any attorneys from around this area first.

I see also that Tygh Tone is the judge. Let's hope he doesn't do what he did in the Nuesse fiasco when he said he was going to take the case and then months later "recused himself w/no reason given" so the city of Sandusky & their Cleveland attorneys could bring in another retired fix-it-judge.

grumpy

...

grumpy

When you get an attorney, you get the best one you can afford... who will take the case. Anything else is a waste of money and time. Columbus has a much larger talent pool, and probably more experienced lawyers in this type of case.

You might get a rookie to change the oil in your car, but when it isn't running worth a dman you look for the experienced mechanic with the certificats of merit to back it up.

grumpy

When you get an attorney, you get the best one you can afford... who will take the case. Anything else is a waste of money and time. Columbus has a much larger talent pool, and probably more experienced lawyers in this type of case.

You might get a rookie to change the oil in your car, but when it isn't running worth a dman you look for the experienced mechanic with the certificats of merit to back it up.

Babo

It looks like the lawyers representing her in the present case to enforce the terms of the contract are the same attorneys who represented her in negotiating the contract and who gave notice to the City and Murray that they were violating the contract by not cooperating in evaluating her performance.

Per the contact the city did not properly evaluate her job performance after the new commissioners were seated and thus there appears to be no cause to terminate her. This contract was negotiated with a clause that protects a city manager against a termination for political reasons upon a change in the commission as appears to have happened here.

IMO, Murray did an enormous disservice to City. He needs to make up his mind if he wants to practice law or act like a Commissioner because in this case he really blew it by doing both and mastering neither role.

OSUBuckeye59

"Per the contract, the city did not properly evaluate her job performance after the new commissioners were seated". I'm having a difficult time understanding where in the contract is language pertaining to how the new commissioners did not properly evaluate Ms. Ard. Can you please help point me to that section/text?

I "think" I see where Murray might believe Sandusky is not required to pay severance to Ms. Ard. Let me explain . . .

We all read how Ms. Ard received an official performance review late last year, the text of which I remember as being rather vague and general and certainly not anywhere close to performance reviews I've both written and received from my employers. Was it an official written review? Yes. But again, it was very short and lacked clear, concise specificity.

Fast forward to this year and a new commission, where the new commission laid out a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). I remember after reading the PIP how I thought it to be well written with clear goals and deliverables. Not surprisingly, Ms. Ard failed to successfully complete the PIP. I write "not surprisingly" because if one graded Ms. Ard's past performance against the deliverables in the PIP, that grading would clearly show Ms. Ard as having failed to successfully perform in the role and responsibilities of Sandusky City Manager. So Ms. Ard did not successfully meet the deliverables of the PIP.

In reading Ms. Ard's contract, section 9F, it clearly states she can be terminated "for cause", and if terminated "for cause", it's further written "she will not be entitled to severance pay or other benefits as set forth in Section 10". Furthermore, "for cause" is clarified in subs-section iii, namely, "If Employee materially fails to perform the duties of City Manager". But with the new commission having terminated Ms. Ard, this termination would appear to meet the conditions of section 9E. But perhaps it's the language in 9E that Murray might be thinking of, namely Ms. Ard's failure to successfully complete the PIP could be interpreted as she was not "willing and able to perform (his) duties under the Agreement".

I'm thinking Murray will argue Ms. Ard simply did not willingly and ably perform her duties as City Manager, thus that non-performance trumps section 9E.

Just my guess, for what that's worth.

Babo

The contract in Section 12 calls for her evaluation to be conducted in a collaborative manner. If you read the Complaint in sections 38-43, it is abundantly clear that Murray overstepped his authority and did not abide by the process in Section 12 by creating the PIP in executive sessions without her involvement or knowledge or even the agreement of Commission. Her counsel even provided Notice to the City's attorney Icsman (who is a constant problem in city government for over a decade) of the breach in the evaluation process contemplated by the mutually agreed upon contract.

IMO, Murray was way out of line and acted not like a member of commission which can only act as a group but as a despot with no respect for contract rights. Moreover Icsman once again proved his incompetence as attorney by not advising the Commission that Murray and his PIP process violated the contract.

OSUBuckeye59

Thank you for pointing out the relevant sections in the Complaint. If the information is correct, it does appear that Murray did indeed violate several sections of Ms. Ard's contract. And I'm very surprised that after having created such a well-written PIP, no-one seems to have worked with Ms. Ard during the PIP period.

Ms. Ard may not have performed to her duties as City Manager, but if events occurred as stated in the Complaint, there's every possibility she will prevail.

Tsu Dho Nimh

I agree.

Weallhavevoices

Let the people who hired her all chip in.... Knew it was mistake from beginning reading credentels, I'm just a average working dude

Weallhavevoices

Let the people who hired her all chip in.... Knew it was mistake from beginning reading credentels, I'm just a average working dude

kimi43464's picture
kimi43464

Nicole Ard failed to live up to her end of the bargain! She was half butted and negligent in her actions and she DESERVED to be fired! You must MANAGE to be a MANAGER and she failed miserably!! Nicole simply wanted to have a title not a job and that was blaringly obvious! do you really want a city manager who can't even attend finance meeting? Who can't respond to citizen inquiries? Who doesn't care if the budget is balanced or totally out of whack? Who when given a certain amount of time to reach a specific set of expectations failed to do so? You people who defend her....you expect less than the best! How sad for you!

As for her performance review status... That was a halfbutt review done by a halfbutt city commission...you people really need to get a clue about what to expect from your government!

Steve P

I would hope the Register comes to her defense and attack the "good old boy system" just like they did for Kim Nuesse but I doubt it. Ms. Ard didn't have the management of this newspaper on speed dial like Kim did.

Really are you ...

The contract. 9.f.iii. is the failure to perform clause.

Tsu Dho Nimh

Did the city actually terminate her for failure to perform? It might be the opinion of those of us posting but was that the terminology used when she was fired?

xtensionofme

This woman is absolutely unbelievable!! She doesn't do her job, gets fired from it (justifiably) and yet she SUES?? She's either incredibly lazy or just plain stupid! The sad part is, the city will (as stated ad nauseum previously) will undoubtedly simply pay her to shut her up. What a bunch of wusses!

Julie R.

Ard was accused of costing the city money when she "unjustly" (according to Tone) fired a part-time Sandusky police officer, Ross Glovinsky. So why didn't the law director Don Iscman tell her that was a no-no? Why didn't he tell her that Glovinsky was the son of good ole' boy, the former Huron police chief, Randy Glovinsky? After all, Ard isn't from around this area. She didn't know who and who wasn't a "good ole' boy" .... but Iscman did.

And how about the other one that she got the blame for when the city's out-of-town attorney (hired by Iscman) "failed to follow the proper procedure with paperwork" (still can't believe you sheep fell for that one) which led to the reinstatement of another fired Sandusky cop.

I knew the handwriting was on the wall for Ard even before the new Sandusky commissioners (who really aren't even new) took over.

Dr. Information

Time to put the keyboard down. We get it already.

jaycee

I never knew we had a city manager, never saw she did anything.

SamAdams

There's one thing here I do find interesting, and not in a good way. While I've made no secret of the fact I agree wholeheartedly with showing Ard the door, a comment attributed to Dennis Murray is more than a little disturbing. He said something to the effect of the Commission not being bound by a contract signed by a previous Commission. I beg to differ.

The contract may have been negotiated by the previous Commission (and, as always, a stack of lawyers). It may have been signed by a previous Commission. But in both instances, the Commission was acting on behalf of the City. Ms. Ard didn't contract with, nor work for, the Commission (no matter whose direction she may have been under). She worked for the City.

If Murray's argument stands, that sets a precedent that anyone would be a fool to ignore. It would mean that every time the body of the Commission changes, all agreements are null and void and must be renegotiated, renewed, or thrown out. I can't imagine for a minute that that's true. IS it???

sash

Glad I read through the comments before I posted because you took the words right out of my mouth. Can you imagine a company trying to wiggle out of a contract because "the former CEO signed it?" I think Ms. Ard is going to see a big pay check.

JT Adams St

@SamAdams

The following is a quote from a March 29 article in the Register:

"A stipulation in Ard’s employment agreement calls for her to receive six months of pay if she’s fired within a six-month period once a new commission enters office. This commission’s current two-year term started in January.

"Ard, who earns about $129,000 a year, would then be entitled to about $64,500, per her deal’s termination clause.

"It’s no guarantee she’ll receive this money, said Murray, who’s a partner in the Murray & Murray law firm.

"'I don’t believe one commission has the ability to bind the hands of another commission' Murray said."

As I mentioned earlier, Murray didn't say anything about just cause, which is odd since he orchestrated her firing and tried to dress it up as a firing for just cause. And, yes, the claim that a new commission is not bound by contracts signed by an old commission is laughable. Let's see if the city makes the "new commission" argument in a motion to dismiss.

Tsu Dho Nimh

Murrays go by their own rules and defend their good 'ole boys.

Babo

There's an old saying about empire or wealth building:

It takes one generation to build a fortune, and two generations to blow it. Murray's granddad was a brilliant lawyer. Dad rode his coattails and did OK for himself. Dennis junior and his generation never knew how to really work for living and just ride on the reputation of their predecessors.

Dennis Jr. is not a particularly talented lawyer as his work on this matter proves but he's used to getting his way by bullying and leveraging connections. IMO, he will have some serious exposure in the federal case that should follow this state contract case.

GoBigLex2001

"Smith, Farrar and Schell voted against the termination."

Yet, she sues them anyway. What a (ret)Ard...lol. Maybe they should have voted to fire her...lol

JT Adams St

She had to sue everyone. She's filing a mandamus complaint, which means that she's asking the court to compel the city commission to honor the severance provision in her contract. She can't pick and choose which commissioners should be forced to honor her contract. On the other hand, if she files a federal civil rights claim, I would imagine that it would be directed at specific individuals.

YoMamma

Who was the commissioner that enthusiastically said she was the best person for the job??? Hmm, why I think it was trickydicky himself. So he should be the one to bear the brunt, yet the fools elected him anyway!

There you go again

Is that best picture of Ms. Ard? She needs to sue the photographer while she's at it...

Steve P

Does anyone think Murray cares if the city is forced to pay taxpayer money out on legal fees, the reason sharks don't eat lawyers, professional courtesy..

Babo

Not only does he not care, he encourages this needless government funded litigation as a favor to his pals. However, Murray might be singing a different tune in federal court when he finds himself sued personally for civil rights violations.

gyrocartfluffikins

He's from Sandusky AND other parts of Erie County? Did he spend time with Dr. Frankenstein?

2cents's picture
2cents

Whatever happened to it didn't work out, good luck for your future.

eriemom

Contract

JERRY from SANDUSKY

You dont like her because she has a fat neck.......

Julie R.

If the Columbus lawyers representing her now are also the lawyers who represented her in negotiating the contract when she was hired, I would have to say Ms. Ard was/is smarter than Sandusky gave her credit for. You can bet she did her homework on Sandusky before she even accepted the job and saw how often Sandusky went through city managers.

Babo

Agreed...appears she and her lawyers took a lesson from "The Champ" and employed a little "rope a dope".

Whiskey in a Teacup

I suspect a few of your commissioners are also, as you say, "smarter than Sandusky" gave them credit.

Babo

True. It will be interesting to see if one or more of the four commissioners who voted to terminate wise up and join the other three to urge rapid settlement of this case because a) it's the right thing to do; b) it will save the city legal costs; and, c) they might avoid getting sued personally in federal court for the civil rights claims.

MissySams

Seems this woman wanted a paycheck without having to work for it, times two!!