City commission to review Ard

A highly anticipated and long-delayed job review of Sandusky’s top-earning official begins next week.
Andy Ouriel
Jul 15, 2013

Sandusky commissioners plan to evaluate city manager Nicole Ard on her performance from October 2011, her hire date, through today.   

The process, lasting up to 30 days, involves   each commissioner assessing Ard’s achievements and failures. “We’ll each give our own review of how she has done throughout the past year and a half,” city commissioner Keith Grohe said. “We’ll then come to a consensus of how she’s doing.”     

Contract clauses   
Ard doesn’t appear anxious for a review. In March, she publicly disputed any notion that she’s required to undergo an evaluation.

She indicated someone waived the clause during an informal gathering weeks before commissioners actually hired her. “That is not true,” ex officio mayor John Hamilton said. In fact, two city contracts clearly state she must undergo an evaluation. Ard signed one of the contracts upon her hire. The other involved commissioners spending $20,000 to conduct a nationwide search for a city manager. “I want to ensure the citizens of Sandusky that this provision of this contract was never waived, formally or informally,” said former city commissioner Dick Brady, who supervised the hiring process. There is no record of the provision ever being waived.       

“This is a service the city has paid for, and we are entitled to it,” city commissioner Diedre Cole said.   

Absentee
Ard’s hesitance at undergoing a performance review may have something to do with the harsh criticism recently leveled against her. Case in point: In June, she skipped a finance committee meeting where certified public accounts discussed an audit detailing Sandusky’s recent revenues and expenses. The accountants all volunteer their time in offering guidance on Sandusky’s budget.

“I would probably refer you to a closed section in my contract,” said Ard, referring to her claimed right to miss the meeting.   

It’s unclear what section of her contract stipulates she can skip finance committee meetings without reason. “Show me in your contract where it says that?” finance committee chairman Allen Nickles said. “I’m speechless. Her response is an embarrassment and a slap in the face to the committee.”   

A dozen goals
A Register analysis published in January determined Ard, who is paid about $126,000 a year, failed to complete or did not address 12 goals officials established for her in 2012.

The story relied on city data and sources to determine Ard, at the time, did not fully accomplish the goals.    Six months later, initiatives still lacking in resolution include:   

• Determining a work plan to sell water and sewer services to additional customers. In November, the city filed an $8.5 million lawsuit against Erie County relating to a water dispute. There has been no public discussion on the lawsuit, nor has a work plan been developed. County officials, meanwhile, contend the city forgot to bill about $2.2 million for water dispensed over the past three years.    This would include about $260,000 in delinquent water bills owed by Joe Yost, whose negligence led city officials to shut off the water service at Hoppers mobile park. This decision has forced about 30 Hoppers residents to move elsewhere.   

• Cooperate with nearby governments:    The lawsuit seemingly tarnished any   working relationship Ard could have with local governments, according to Erie County commissioners Bill Monaghan and Pat Shenigo.   

• Review current commission priority projects and develop management system to track key projects. There’s no evidence — documents or public discussion — showing Ard mentioning any of these items at length. Her city manager reports are often sparse, mostly consisting of listing donations given to the city.  

• Continue implementation of vision for downtown development. Ard has spurred little public discussion about efforts to improve the downtown business district.    Achievements›   

• Hiring a police chief: Ard named longtime Sandusky police commander John Orzech as chief in early April. Orzech had to endure a year-long process in which city officials conducted two separate searches. Volunteers and officials botched the first search by failing to follow Sandusky’s laws outlining criteria for hiring police chiefs.    A Register investigation in September 2012 concluded three of the initial five finalists were ineligible for police chief consideration. After the article published, committee members decided to restart the process. The search process cost taxpayers $33,000, effectively spending an extra $7,800 on a second round of candidates.   

• Provide a balanced budget to commissioners: In March 2012, Ard submitted a red-ink budget forecasting a $353,000 deficit for 2012. Commissioners approved the deficit budget after 10 minutes of discussion. While Sandusky did break even in 2012, major problems are looming in 2013 and beyond. For 2013, Ard’s $16 million balanced budget is far too optimistic, Nickles contends.    “My concern is we have not mapped out a plan as to what’s going to happen if we don’t meet the budget this year,” Nickles said. “If they don’t meet the budget, what are they going to do?”    One solution involves cutting the city’s workforce by more than 10 percent. Earlier this year, Ard provided commissioners with a list of potential cuts, including eliminating up to 27 city jobs by 2014, totaling about $2.2 million in savings. She did not, however, indicate how those cuts could be made.     

Evaluation time   
Grohe said he has wanted to evaluate Ard for some time, but a commission severed by emotions halted such a review.    “We held off on the evaluation because there was too much turmoil between commissioners,” said Grohe, the city’s human resources liaison.   

There has been a clear divide among city commissioners, with one set — Pervis Brown, Julie Farrar and Jeff Smith, ardent supporters of Ard — at odds against Diedre Cole and Wes Poole, who have frequently raised questions about Ard’s performance.    Grohe and Hamilton haven’t expressed a strong opinion either way. “I would hope the commission would settle down and not fight within itself,” Grohe said. “The commission is picking itself apart, and to me that is not a good thing.”    At a recent meeting where commissioners announced plans to move forward with the performance review, many city officials laughed.   

When asked about this behavior, Grohe condemned it. “That was unprofessional,” Grohe said. “Rest assured, the evaluation will be done professionally.”

Comments

YoMamma

Who were the city officials that laughed? They should be publicly apologizing for their unprofessional behavior!

dorothy gale

Well, THIS should be good.

beekspubs

Hire some one Educated for the job. By people who are Educated and elected to do a job of hiring the best person for the job. This is not the fault of the City Manager this is the incopmatcy of the City Commision to do a job properly. I do not know Ard or her politics but I would be willing to say " it sucks to come to a city where the politics makes you scared to answer any one for any reason". Come on Sandusky can't we do anything better that this? How much money was spent on finding this Manager? Who do we " the Tax payers spend our money with?". I would like you to consult with me on your next desission any desission the Commision makes. Because it seams lucrative because the City of Sandusky cannot make a choice without first going to a committy. So who are the commissioners and what if anything do they know? Or are they just Robats doing what they are told to do. This sounds like an Open Election. Educated people apply!

OSUBuckeye59

It's interesting to read that Ms. Ard believes her performance in the role of City Manager cannot be reviewed. If she believes the performance review clause was waved, she can clear up any confusion quite easily by providing the signed waver. And pray tell...was this no-review policy the same policy in any of her former roles, either the public or private sector?

As each Commissioner reviews her performance, I hope they each review Ms. Ard's accomplishments against the goals, grading her performance as either having exceeded expectations in meeting each individual goal, successfully delivered against the goal, or did not successfully deliver to the goals. One good example of assessment would be the 2013 Budget, where for Budget Cycle 2013, Ms. Ard submitted a balanced budget not accepted by the Finance Committee, after which Ms. Ard then provided a list of potential cuts but did not indicate how the cuts would be made or what the potential impact(s) of the cuts would be. Ms. Ard then failed to attend the scheduled Finance Committee meeting, did not provide advanced notice she would be unable to attend, and overall has not met her City Budget responsibilities as required in her role as City Manager.

A more clear review feedback would be for Ms. Ard's results against the goal to 'Review current commission priority projects and develop management system to track key projects.' If what the SR has reported is correct, namely 'There’s no evidence — documents or public discussion — showing Ard mentioning any of these items at length. Her city manager reports are often sparse, mostly consisting of listing donations given to the city.', Ms. Ard's performance review against this goal could be as simple as follows, "Ms. Ard has failed to institute a Key City Project Portfolio creation, review and execution management system."

Again, hopefully, the Commissioners will look for measurable results in grading Ms. Ard's performance. There needs to be clear measurable results of Ms. Ard either having met, did not meet, or exceeded in delivering to the goals.

margaritaville88

F-, sorry you failed !!! I like the old mayor-style form..people are accountable for their actions. It worked great in places like Bayview for many years when Paul Snyder was mayor. If you had a problem, talk to the mayor (personally) and problem solved ! Good Ole' Skeeter....just saying

dwa9995294

Ms. Ard is not doing her job. I don't think she is qualified. She should be present at every meeting, showing she wants to be part of this city & see improvement. She is here just to collect a paycheck. You let a good city manager leave, Mr. Will. Your commission chased him away. He had vision for the city & was very visible.

dorothy gale

She should be made to pay back some of that huge salary she didn't earn.

Darkhorse

Will the Register be able to report on any of the evaluations and will they be public record, or will they be forever be tucked away in a secret vault?

shucks

What's the problem that we can't find a City Manager within Sandusky?

OSUBuckeye59

4s, the question to ask of Commissioners is: Did any local candidates apply along with Ms. Ard? It would be good to know who applied, who was interviewed, and how all applicants were vetted/dispositioned.

Justme...

The entire hiring process was well documented in the Register at time - including all the applicants and their qualifications. Sorry you missed it!

OSUBuckeye59

What Ms. Ard has failed and continues to fail in realizing is with the City Manager position, it's about communication, accountability, communication, leadership, communication, planning & executing, and communication.

Of the 12 goals laid out for Ms. Ard, the Commissioners individual evaluations of her performance need to include Ms. Ard's performance against each goal. If she has failed to meet at least 75% of the goals, and the word "meeting" meaning she 100% delivered to the goal, I seriously question any justification supporting keeping Ms. Ard through the end of her current contract. And unless there's clear language in any type of city document noting otherwise, Commissioners need to make public their separate evaluations. If Commissioners cannot provide legal standing for keeping the evaluations private and balk at making their reports public, I would hope the SR seeks legal action to get the evaluations and print them.

Ms. Ard has not performed to the duties of the City Manager position, and the Commissioners need to hold themselves and her accountable.

pavedparadise

Has anyone noticed that besides the major projects approved prior to Ard's and the new Commission's arrival nothing new and exciting is going on?

Oh, except for a number of "hush hush" projects that are being discussed privately.

margaritaville88

Good point...

fanatic's picture
fanatic

Someone needs to start evaluating the commissioners. Sandusky is sinking fast!

Nemesis

It seems that being unsophisticated/ignorant enough to believe a verbal conversation overrides a written, signed contract should be an automatic disqualifier to the job of managing a city government. It makes one wonder about the interview process and how they failed to catch such deficiencies.