Nicole Ard fired

Sandusky city commission votes 4-3 to terminate city manager's employment
Mar 29, 2014

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.

New hope
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


Julie R.

Baxter & Co. has something in the works for Sandusky. It's why Murray ran for city commissioner again.


I am curious as to where she stood on the admissions tax increase proposal. I wonder if she supported it along with Schell, Ferrar and that spineless Smith, and if that is what cost her her job.


Sorry to bring up Race, but I was very surprised that the 2 non-caucasions voted against her. Thats not good. I think that speaks for itself. Time for a change, AGAIN.


C'mon lifetime, that doesn't speak for anything.

Julie R.

I heard through the grapevine that another one of your many fired city managers (Matt K.) got a job in another city making more than he made as the city manager in Sandusky. Obviously, employers don't put any stock at all into what goes on in Sandusky, Ohio. Kim Nuesse is another good example.


You may be right. There's been an awful lot of turmoil in Sandusky's administration. It doesn't reflect well upon the city.


It seems simple enough to me: Ard didn't do the job. She got fired as a result. And don't pretend that she DID do the job! She scribbled a nebulous multi-million dollar budget on a single sheet of paper. The Finance Committee complained about her (and that's a committee filled with professionals). Her communications skills were sorely lacking where the public is concerned. She didn't sit down with the Law Director's office and botched a couple of terminations. And who knows WHAT else she failed to do (or did badly) behind the scenes?

Her failure in general isn't complicated, either. The City hired the wrong candidate when it hired Ard. The real advantage of a City Manager over a Mayor is that City Managers have an education geared toward managing municipalities. A Mayor may have experience running a business, but s/he sure won't have experience or expertise running a City! While there are similarities I'd like to see honored (like fiscal responsibility and efficiency), there are enough differences that it can cause real trouble for a town. Mix politics and transparency to the public into that, and it can be a recipe for disaster! (And remember, just because somebody gets the most votes, it doesn't mean they'll be any good at the job -- look at some of the Commissioners we've elected and you'll see the point all too clearly!)

I'm not one of those who objects to a City Manager. In fact, I support it. But it's imperative that Commissioners actually hire the most QUALIFIED candidate, not the one who makes politically correct sense at the time. And it's just as crucial that, after hiring him or her, Commissioners LET THE MANAGER DO THE JOB!

Yes, Ard has been a problem. But let's not pretend she caused the problem! After all, it was the Commissioners who hired the wrong candidate, who exacerbated the problem with micro-management, and who let the problem get out of hand by failing to take appropriate action a whole lot earlier!


We're always going to have problems if the city remains underfunded. That's not an excuse for poor city management but it does put tremendous pressure on the manager to manage the city properly.

Dr. Information

To many complaints from different departments and a manager who looks and works lazy = justified firing. Next.


Didnt the commissioners hire her . If so I would not be too excited about letting them lead the process again

TKeegan73's picture

I'm not a resident of Sandusky,OH but I have been following all the stories and it looks like the Sandusky Commissioners had every reason to terminate her position with the City of Sandusky. In all honesty, if you have been following everything from about 2 years ago, the City Commissioners have failed their duties as well and I would question their ability to properly interview and hire a new "City Manager" because they definitely botched this one up. In my opinion, not that it really matters, I think Sandusky needs to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch. Remove everyone in office that has any say so over the City Manager's position and hire in people that know what they are doing because the problem runs much deeper than Ard! If Cedar Fair decided to pack up and move Cedar Point the City of Sandusky would go completely under, the tax revenue from Cedar Point is the only thing keeping that City afloat. I think moving Cedar Point to a more thriving community would increase their attendance and most definitely increase their profits because a thriving community wouldn't have the need to tax them to death to keep their City afloat....JMHO

Little Giant

Taxing them to death? Their customers are paying a 3% admission tax. Many other similar places are charging 8% to 10%. To suggest that they would just pack up and move sounds completely ignorant considering the time money and tradition. Do you actually think they would spend hundreds of millions to move so that they don't have to pay a couple more million a year?


Cedar Point does NOT pay the admissions tax. It is a tax on admissions and is paid by the people that choose to enter. It has NEVER and WILL NEVER be paid by CEDAR POINT. The person who pays is the person who consciously decides to buy an admission to whatever facility the desire to enter. You pay 7.75% tax when you eat at a restaurant. This 8% admissions tax would pay to repair streets, maintain water capacity for 250,000 people in a town of 25,000, repave path to Cedar Point, pay for additional fire and police demands created by 3.8 million visitors annually and allow city to comply with EPA mandates that are over 25 years in arrears.


Are you even a resident of this planet?? Yeah Cedar Point is going to pack everything up and move it. As soon as Dick Brady walks on the moon they will! Simpleton lets break this down for you.

1) an admission tax will not cost Cedar Point a dime.
2) The Millions they would have to spend to move everything would not be cost effective.
3) They already have other parks in other cities.
4) This park makes tons of money why close it.

As for increasing their profit that is what is wrong with corporate America lets increase the profit for the shareholders but keep the money from the people that make the company prosper the worker.

By the way change your ending from JMHO to JMDAO

"Save City Services Tax the Tourist"

April 5th, 11 am Mr. Smith's Coffee time to make a change the commissioner do not have the guts to do.


Two words, Donut: Geauga Lake.

Due to a hostile community that hurt profitability, two successive park chains, gradually disinvested until the second one, Cedar Fair, closed the gates and cannibalized the assets for their other parks.


I think 6 Flags killed it when they killed SeaWorld. Everything seemed to be prosperous up to that point. I've never read anything about the community being hostile.


Six Flags didn't kill SeaWorld. They combined the parks and the Sea World part kept going - just without the Sea World brand name. I was there many times during Six Flags and CF's ownership. Both companies stopped maintaining the theming and other non-safety related elements. The community was very hostile - the park was surrounded by very expensive housing developments, and residents hated the noise from the park. The council passed a law limiting the height and size of new rides, an effective death sentence for an amusement park with the current coaster "arms race" in the industry. They also passed laws to curtail the fireworks and laser shows that park guests demand these days. They wanted upscale retail there, not an amusement park that drew people from the more urban parts of the region.


What are you a Nemesis a half-wit comparing Cedar Point to that glorified carnival Geauga Lake.

People do not believe the hype that Cedar Point is going to cannibalize all of their assets for other parks.


Geauga Lake had 10 major coasters, including 1 that incorporated a cuttng edge concept that CP to this day lacks. In the last 20 years, they got at least one of the hot new rides that CP didn't, even though CF featured the same ride as the premier addition at their SoCal park the same year. After acquiring the neighboring Sea World, they had a major attraction that CP not only didn't have, but was legally barred from having.

In the late 70's, they gave serious consideration to bulldozing the entire park for a new housing subdivision. That was when they only had ONE park, and doing so would have meant the end of the entire enterprise. Now CP is one part of a chain of parks, many of which are in locations made much more profitable by climate. The last big proxy battle at Cedar Fair centered largely on one faction's desire to move the headquarters (with about 150 jobs, mind you) out of Sandusky and stop concentrating resources on CP. The executive contingent with strong ties to this community has been mostly ushered into retirement.

It wouldn't happen overnight. They would slowly shift investment to another park, like King's Island (where there's much more room for expansion) until that park started garnering the awards CP usually gets. Keep in mind that Northern Ohio used to have at least 5 parks, and two of them were driven under by friction with their host communities.

I've been around enough to see you tax-and-spend types kill the goose that laid the golden egg many times by driving businesses out of communities. Your little group jumped straight to the insanity of 8%, which hands the commission clowns an instant $4 million surplus AFTER reversing the recent cuts,which which they are guaranteed to spend on building a new Taj Mahal City Hall. How will you follow an act like that - maybe with a petition to give Gunner twice what he asked for in the Perkins levy so he can build his new ego edifice campus?

There are plenty of communities that do OK on an income tax rate similar to Sandusky's, WITHOUT any big entertainment venues upon which to impose parasitic industry specific taxes.


Yes, but you missed the fact that CP doesn't pay the Admissions Tax, the customers pay the tax. Also, by raising the Admissions Tax, the income tax could be reduced or eliminated.

The biggest problem in my opinion is that Sandusky is completely opposite of Geauga County. Far from looking desirable, the city looks like a combat zone. A family member from the East Coast was in town and we tried to drive into downtown Sandusky to have lunch.
I asked her why do you think Sandusky has trouble attracting people downtown? Her response: It's difficult to find and the area looks like a ghetto.

T. A. Schwanger


@ Nemesis

Exactly right. Why should the Admissions Tax be nearly tripled to give elected leaders temptations to continue squandering money on non-essentials.

The City budget has been steady at $16 million for close to a decade yet every year a decision is made to increase the "carryover" balance--now $4 million up, significantly from $3 million in recent memory--artificial "deficit financing".


@Schwanger:"Exactly right. Why should the Admissions Tax be nearly tripled to give elected leaders temptations to continue squandering money on non-essentials."

Tim gets it - giving extra money to politicians is like giving a whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.

"The City budget has been steady at $16 million for close to a decade yet every year a decision is made to increase the "carryover" balance--now $4 million up, significantly from $3 million in recent memory--artificial "deficit financing"."

Can you say slush fund? It seems they're determined to come up with the money to move city hall even if they have to do it Iran-Contra/Gunner'sNewCampus style, but that won't be necessary because, by hinting at an income tax increase they know would never succeed at the ballot box, they were able to manipulate these guys to be their unwitting shills for the real prize - an instant $4 million windfall. The commissioners are playing these folks like a Stradivarius.



"Yes, but you missed the fact that CP doesn't pay the Admissions Tax, the customers pay the tax."

First of all, that's provably false. If the city had to directly collect it from the customers at the gate, that process would cost more than the tax brings in. Cedar Fair reports gate sales and writes the city a check for 3% of that amount, and they may pass that cost on to the customer, or absorb it at their discretion. Second, it's all fungible, and no matter how you spin it, it has a negative impact on the park's profitability.

"Also, by raising the Admissions Tax, the income tax could be reduced or eliminated."

Dream on. If you believe the Commissioners will EVER willingly give up existing revenue, I have a bridge to sell you.

"The biggest problem in my opinion is that Sandusky is completely opposite of Geauga County. Far from looking desirable, the city looks like a combat zone."

Well, for starters, Geauga County has its own ghetto - it's called Chagrin Falls Park, and it was created by liberal tax and spend do-gooders, just like every other ghetto in the country, but what's your point? How is maximizing the admissions tax (I support an increase to 4%, which is enough to restore the current cuts and balance the budget) supposed to make Sandusky look and feel less like a ghetto? If you give the commissioners a $4 milllion surplus, just what do you think they will do with it? I'll tell you - they'll build a fancy new city hall downtown, and then spend the rest on freebies that benefit those who make the city look and feel like a ghetto, which only attracts and encourages more of the same. It would be fascinating to hear you explain how an 8% admissions tax and an instant $4 million budget surplus can somehow cause the crowd that turns DJ's into a shooting gallery every weekend decide to reform their lives and become productive contributing members of society, or how it's going to get a bunch of 8th graders to take more interest in algebra than breeding the next generation of the underclass. Please tell us how getting all punitive toward the tourists who inject money into the local economy is going to inspire a change in those locals who suck resources out of it. By all means, tell us how all those who've committed shootings in Sandusky have declared that, if Sandusky would only have taxed the tourists more, they'd all be graduating from Ivy-league schools as valedictorians right now.


Your facts are not accurate. The admissions tax like a sales tax that you pay every time you purchase dine in food, clothing, personal hygiene products etc. is collected from the consumer by the business at the point of transaction and then paid to the taxing authority. Yes, any business can chose to advertise through a sale that it will pay the tax for you through a deduction in its retail price but it still must collect the tax from the consumer and pay the tax to the taxing authority.

Further, the only affect an admissions tax like a sales tax has on a company's profitability is if the tax is so high it stops people from purchasing the service or product. Does the 7.75% sales tax prevent you or anybody from spending money on non essential purchases such as dining at a restaurant? It is no different with a non essential purchase such as recreation or amusement.

An increase to 8% in a state that consumers already expect to pay over 7% in sales tax will not lead to any loss of customers for Cedar Point. In fact, Cedar Point consumers are presently under taxed at 3% and no sales tax as compared to most other businesses which must collect over 7% in sales taxes on their products or services.

I don't advocate passing an Admissions Tax increase to 8% without a reduction or total elimination of the income tax. The point is to make Sandusky attractive to new businesses and productive residents.

You do that in part by eliminating income taxes, so that businesses and residents want to live and work in Sandusky. Extra money is used not to move city hall, but to develop attractive streets and traffic patterns, parks and a coordinated theme to development. In effect you create a "lifestyle" area in an already existing space.

Right now, Sandusky is a "flyover" zone for tourists and very few would consider spending time or money. However, as another poster noted the City is saddled with all of the costs associated with providing the infrastructure (roads, water, sewer, power, safety forces) to 3.8 million customers who pay less than half the rate of sales taxes by everybody. It is unfair to the residents and other businesses of the City to subsidize through corporate welfare (lower tax burden) the customers of Cedar Point while their quality of life deteriorates.


It's interesting how DonutShopGuy becomes a tax and spend leftist as long as someone other than him is paying the tax.


Nemesis, just another reason why you are a SIMPLETON. You just proved NOTHING!!
Geauga Lake, and the other five amusement parks went away for reasons you never disclosed, but one thing is for certain they didn't leave because admission tax was to high.

Another thing to ponder why would Cedar Fair get rid of their name sake Cedar Point. As for your 70's reference I am 100% sure they were not raking in the money they are now.

Leave the dark side of being a corporate puppet and join us in wait for it....

"Save City Services Tax the Tourist"


"Geauga Lake, and the other five amusement parks went away for reasons you never disclosed,"

I clearly outlined how Geauga Lake closed because an adversarial local community rendered it less profitable. Your campaign to triple the admissions tax is just another form of the same thing.

"Another thing to ponder why would Cedar Fair get rid of their name sake Cedar Point."

And you call other people a simpleton? Yeah, they'll keep a less profitable unit going just because of its name, right. 95% of CP customers don't even KNOW the name of the corporation, and for every other park they own, 99% have no awareness. Apparently, this issue has sent you so far into marxist class warfare thinking that you've completely forgotten how capitalism works. Businesses do not operate out of the goodness of their hearts, or to honor traditions - they exist to make a profit, a goak to which that namesake status contributes NOTHING. History and far better known names have no value in that equation; just ask anyone who used to have an Oldsmobile or Pontiac dealership.

"As for your 70's reference I am 100% sure they were not raking in the money they are now."

They were profitable at the time. However, that doesn't help if investing the capital elsewhere would be MORE profitable.
"Leave the dark side of being a corporate puppet and join us in wait for it...."
You should leave the dark side of tax and spend class warfare leftism. Who knew you'd turn out just like Big Dog and Coasterfan?

Don't naively assume that politicians mean what they say. Let's break down this little drama.

The city comes up a little less than $1 million short this year, on a budget that's hovered around $16 for quite a few years.

The commissioners start talking about an income tax increase, knowing full well it will have to go to a referendum, and that it won't have a snowball's chance in hell of passing. WHY do you think they would do this? Let's see - it's pretty easy to guess that the simpletons in the city will get all worked up in a lather, and start screaming for the most extreme possible backlash - tripling the admissions tax. So, the commissioners get a revenue increase of $5 million a year, so they can not only close the budget gap, but they get a $4 million slush fund windfall, which they can use to build a shiny new city hall, engage in more misinvestments like the Krunchie Pickle, and/or to buy more votes from the dependent class with giveaways. The best part is, if anyone objects, or if any tourist businesses disinvest, they bear no responsibility for the decision. It's every politician's wet dream - they get a bunch of people who formerly opposed tax increases to fight tooth and nail for a tax increase that will expand their spending by a whopping 25%! Obama should come here and take lessons from them.

Now, if you sat down and thought for a minute, and did the math, rather than storming the barricades with your "PUNISH THE TOURISTS" agitprop, you'd realize that a relatively painless increase of the admissions tax to 4% would more than suffice to comfortably solve the current budget crisis, and give some breathing room for the city to have a serious talk about spending restraint and what is and isn't essential or effective for government to do. But hey, I get it, math and logic are hard. It's so much easier to drink the Kool Aid that everything will be better as long as we get more R's or D's in office, and let them suck as much money out of the private sector to play with as they want, as long as it's someone else they're taxing.

Ralph J.

Perhaps Ard was given bad legal advice by the law director and was doomed to fail?


Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks (including: name calling, presumption of guilt or guilt by association, insensitivity, or picking fights).

Forward Looking

It is going to be hard to get a City Manager w/ this Kangaroo Court. Wonder if this is when we start seeing a change in the city charter to have an elected Mayor? I think that would be better and less at the will of egotistical Commissioners.