In a divided but decisive vote, city commissioners Friday fired Sandusky’s highest-ranking and top-paid employee.
Effective immediately, commissioners voted 4-3 to terminate city manager Nicole Ard. They also voted 4-3 to appoint city law director Don Icsman as interim city manager.
Ex officio mayor Dennis Murray Jr. and commissioner Jeff Smith volunteered to spearhead an in-house process to find a new city manager. The city manager is effectively a government’s version of a CEO, overseeing daily services, such as police and fire, and reporting to commissioners.
“This is a difficult decision for the commission,” Murray said. “Ms. Ard is a very nice person, and I regret that I am going to cast a ‘yes’ vote, but it is time to move the city in a different direction”
Joining Murray in favor of termination were commissioners Dick Brady, Wes Poole and Naomi Twine. The three dissenting votes, boiling down to those wanting Ard to stick around, were cast by commissioners Julie Farrar, Scott Schell and Smith.
Ard, a non-union employee, provided a brief statement to a reporter shortly after the vote.
“I look forward to continuing being a resident here and making a difference here in the community,” Ard said.
When asked to comment on her firing, she said, “I will have to let you talk to the commission about that”
Ard’s firing came two months after commissioners gave her a last-chance agreement to shape up or ship out. In a nutshell, the last-chance agreement outlined many of the deficiencies commissioners perceived in Ard’s performance since she began in fall 2011.
Chief among them: She mishandled legal, disciplinary and termination proceedings, costing city taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. The most glaring issues involved firing at least four police officers, only to have each one ordered to return. In all cases, an independent judge or neutral third party mandated these officers return to Sandusky’s force — with back pay — after Ard or someone she worked with botched the termination process.
The document, drafted in January, indicated that if she didn’t improve in 60 days commissioners could fire her.
On Friday, that’s what the majority decided to do.
Going away pay?
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.
Ard is just the latest casualty in Sandusky’s apparent failure in selecting city managers. Matt Kline, Ard’s predecessor, was fired in November 2009 for allegedly making racist remarks and for breaching his fiduciary duty to the city.
Between Kline and Ard, Icsman served as the temporary city manager, convincing commissioners to once again have him serve in this interim role.
Murray vowed to find a person capable of running the government efficiently and transparently.
“The city has a lot of problems it needs to address, with some of those problems predating Ms. Ard’s tenure,” Murray said. “We need to move on some of those issues that have been neglected for a while. We have a lot of people interested in being the city manager of Sandusky. Now that this position is available, let’s move forward and see who it is”
Watch the vote in the player below