The Rev. Thomas Darden, a black man, told commissioners he believes they fired Ard, a black woman, simply based on her race and sex.
“As you publish the notice for a new city manager and you list the requirements, you should also include in it: ‘Women and blacks need not apply. We’re taking the city in a different direction,’” Darden said.
About 40 people attended Monday’s public meeting, with the majority of them black and supporting Darden’s statements.
Darden’s criticism stems from a late March decision in which commissioners voted 4-3 to fire Ard. Three of the four commissioners who voted to fire Ard — ex officio mayor Dennis Murray Jr., Dick Brady and Naomi Twine — just began their four-year terms in January.
Monday marked the first public meeting commissioners convened since firing Ard.
“Some of you campaigned the citizens of Sandusky … you presented your platform, and we believed in you and elected you, not knowing you had a hidden agenda” Darden said. “You had in mind that you were (going) to fire the city manager”
Murray responded to Darden by politely disagreeing with his comments.
“I respect your opinions” Murray said. “But I do categorically reject that the decision was based on race and gender. That had no part of my decision or any part of the other three commissioners”
The four commissioners collectively contend they voted to fire Ard solely based on her performance.
Her firing came two months after commissioners gave her a last-chance agreement to either shape up or get shipped out.
In a nutshell, the last-chance agreement outlined many of the deficiencies commissioners perceived in Ard’s performance. If she didn’t show significant improvement in 60 days, commissioners threatened to fire her. They immediately did so once the 60-day period expired.
Darden, a respected area pastor who previously served on commission, believes the city didn’t give Ard a fair shot at succeeding.
He blamed a good portion of Ard’s downfall on commissioners not providing her a secretary. Ard, however, adamantly refused an administrative assistant when commissioners previously wanted to give her one.
In an interview after Monday’s public meeting, Twine — a black woman who voted to fire Ard — dismissed Darden’s viewpoint and said his opinion of commissioners displaying racism and sexism toward Ard “couldn’t be any further from the truth”
“I based my vote on 24 years of public administration experience,” said Twine, a full-time executive assistant to the Ohio Veterans Home superintendent.
The four commissioners who voted to fire Ard: Murray, Brady, Twine and Wes Poole, a black man.
The three commissioners who wanted to keep her are all white: Julie Farrar, a woman, Scott Schell and Jeff Smith.
Commissioners are moving forward in their quest to find a new city manager. It’s unknown when they’ll hire one.
With a salary of about $129,000 a year, Ard was the city’s highest-paid employee.