Update: Score cArd for city manager cites shortcomings

Matt Westerhold
Aug 18, 2013

Update: Sandusky city commissioner Diedre Cole sent the city a finalized version of a performance evaluation for city manager Nicole Ard that suggests Ard has failed to meet expectations across a broad spectrum of job responsibilities.  

Cole said she used a formatted evaluation form incorporating the job goals established when Ard was hired, and also used the charter officer evaluation form the city has used in the past. The evaluation cites numerous issues and includes an action plan for improvement, she said. The review she submitted also includes information from notes she took during a closed-door commission meeting with Ard earlier this month, contrasting her responses to the issues raised. 

Cole also said some fellow commissioners are soft-pedaling Ard's shortcomings and "dumbing down" the review process.    

"Ignoring this is not a good option. The city has serious challenges and tough choices ahead. Commission cannot turn a blind eye to these problems," she said. "Answering phones and taking recreation department reservations is not what the city's CEO and top-paid employee should be doing. What's the hourly rate at $126,000 a year?"  

"It's $61 an hour," Cole said, after quickly tapping a calculator to come up with the number. 

The Register has requested copies of the evaluation prepared by Cole and an earlier evaluation submitted by commissioner Wes Poole, and other reviews and drafts from other commissioners for city charter officers.

Cole also told the Register her mother died on Saturday. She has been commuting back and forth from North Carolina for some time helping her family care for her mother and said the funeral will be this week.   

She also said she intends to be a write-in candidate on the Nov. 5 ballot. Her mother's illness and working to get her family in North Carolina situated caused her to miss the deadline to file a candidate's petition, but can still file as a write-in candidate.

"I want to try a different approach," she said. 


Original Post, Aug. 16, 5:51 a.m. 

Two Sandusky city commissioners submitted performance review evaluations for city manager Nicole Ard that pinpoint what they say are areas in need of improvement. 

But the majority coalition on commission has adopted a wait-and-see approach to letting the public in on the score card for Ard and appear to be ignoring the information submitted.

Commissioner Wesley Poole provided a three-page evaluation form, and commissioner Diedre Cole filed a 23-page draft evaluation. Cole said she is finishing her forms and plans to include the notes she took during the Aug. 12 closed meeting commissioners conducted with Ard for the review. 

Both Poole and Cole used the job goals established by commission when Ard was hired in late 2011 for their evaluations, determining that she failed to meet some of  the goals and calling for an action plan to get back on track.

A Register special report in January based on a public records review and other information determined that none of the goals had been met. Ard declined to respond to questions from the Register while the reporting was being researched before it published and has not offered any response to it since it was published. Some of the goals appear to have been accomplished since that January report, which prompted the current review process by commissioners.

Commissioner Julie Farrar said her experience will guide her through the process. 

"Until the evaluation is totally complete and all parties have signed off on it, it is a work in progress," Farrar said, adding that she didn't take notes during the closed meeting with Ard.

Commissioner Jeff Smith, Farrar, ex officio mayor John Hamilton and commissioner Keith Grohe all discarded the evaluation submitted by Poole, and did not secure it as a public document. Cole's evaluation was filed with an email.

Hamilton told the Register "nobody really wanted" the forms Poole submitted. It's not clear how each commissioner's individual reviews will be incorporated into the final narrative of Ard's review to which Farrar referred, or why the commissioners refused to include Poole's viewpoint in the process. 

Ard has hired an attorney to guide her through the review process with commissioners, Grohe said. She replied to a recent inquiry from the Register about that and other questions but did not answer the questions asked.

"Sandusky is a special community in which to live and work, and I look forward to continuing my work with the Commissioners and on behalf of the residents," Ard wrote in her reply.

Performance reviews by commissioners for law director Don Icsman and finance director Hank Solowiej have been completed. The Register has requested copies of these reviews, drafts and other evaluation forms, documents and public record submitted during the earlier process.  

The city never followed up on the evaluation and review service that was part of the contract with the firm hired in 2011 to set the job goals and assist in the search for a new city manager. It was never explained how that contract provision was lawfully "waived" by commissioners, or why, but Smith suggested the review process currently underway is well-in-hand. 

"This will be my first evaluation of the city manager. However, due to my professional history, I am not a stranger to evaluation process," Smith wrote in an email to the Register.



If she isn't doing her job, get rid of her. Any other employer who had an employee who was not doing their job would be fired in a heartbeat. No questions asked. She has had enough chances to prove herself.


Agreed. But consider for one second the probability of a lawsuit if the Commission actually BEHAVES like a responsible employer!

No, I'm not suggesting the Commission should be cowed by the threat. I'm just saying that the threat is there, and I'd frankly be surprised if at least SOME Commissioners WEREN'T shading their reviews, etc. accordingly.



I tend to agree with you on the threat being present. But the best way for the Commissioners to address the threat is by providing clear, documented evidence of Ms. Ard's failure to meet expectations. Reviews where an employee is at a minimum Successful are, of course, much easier to write than when an employee has consistently failed expectations.

I hope the Commissioners learn from this situation and make changes to not repeat this in the future. I would hope the Commissioners require future City Managers to create a Plan of Action & Timeline, have the City Manager review the plan with Commissioners, including agreement on measurable success Indicators, and have the Commissioners then conduct a monthly review of status against the Plan. This all isn't difficult. It just requires due diligence in planning, executing, reporting and communicating.


It looks like 5 out of 7 say she's doing her job.


In my own experience generating employee evaluations, a 3 page report would be normal. A 23-page assessment seems rather long. Then again, I've always opted for clear, concise, abbreviate reports. Commissioner Cole may just be more detailed in her reporting. The end result is what's most important in that the report should detail Ms. Ard's measured accomplishments, or lack there-of, against stated goals.

Even though Ms. Ard has a contract with the City for her services, it seems odd she would retain the services of a Lawyer. Does anyone know if there's language in her contract allowing the City to dismiss her prior to her contract end date if she hasn't met certain deliverable criteria? Or if there's specific language allowing for automatic contract renewal under certain deliverables having been met?

Unless there's information the SR has somehow missed or has been not provided as the information has been kept private by the City Commissioners, all factual evidence currently available clearly points to Ms. Ard having performed Below Expectations in her role of City Manager. Given her contract is set to expire in just over 2 months, it's incredibly important for City Commissioners to realize the sense of urgency and complete the summary Review of Ms. Ard's performance such that the City can quickly start the search for a new City Manager.

The troubling part in all this is the apparent lack of Transparency. With Commissioners having set the Goals, Ms. Ard should have worked with Commissioners to identify measurable success criteria against the goals, built a plan of record detailing a path to meet the measurable results, and provided, at a minimum, monthly reports detailing status against meeting the goals. This isn't difficult. A good City Manager would be one who can communicate, plan well, communicate, execute, communicate, produce measurable results, and did I mention communicate?


Ard's last job was eliminated and jumped $45,000 in salary by coming to Sandusky. On the gravy train hot seat? Hire an attorney.

Hillsborough Names Assistant Town Manager:::Nicole Ard, assistant to the town manager in Leesburg, Va., was selected from a pool of 150 applicants. She will replace former Assistant Town Manager Demetric Potts, who resigned in May for a Public Safety manager position with Wake County.

Ard will start work on or about Oct. 22 and will be paid a salary of $84,000.


Ms. Ard has a contract with the City. Has she hired a Lawyer because if the City doesn't renew her contract in November because of her not meeting expectations, she'll sue the City to get her unfavorable Review overturned and thus the City will then be forced to renew her Contract?


She really should find another job and save the money she's paying a lawyer. She needs to find something she's more suited for but for the life of me, I don't know what that is!


maybe she could be a communications specialist? arrrrgh!

T. A. Schwanger


Not that it matters much, since City Commission from time to time violates the City Charter, but here is what the City Charter has to say:::::


The City Manager shall be the administrative head of the municipal government under the direction and supervision of the City Commission and SHALL HOLD OFFICE AT THE PLEASURE of the City Commission.....
(Ord. 05-157. Passed 10-24-05.)

Meaning he/she can be let go at anytime. Contract or no contract.


"...AT THE PLEASURE of...". That one word, "PLEASURE", is as subjective of a word as any. It's so far from measurable that it causes my head to spin.

No wonder Ms. Ard hired an attorney.

T. A. Schwanger


Such is life when a person is an appointed public official.

If commission decides a change in direction is in order and a change in the City Manager position is the answer well..........


Yes, but they may need to pay out the remainder of her contract depending on its terms unless they can show cause.


Those of you who have been in business (and…this IS business) a long time might agree when I say that evaluating people tends to be more subjective than objective. We like to have numbers and goals to check off in boxes when we evaluate, but we are intelligent enough to know that there are some emotions tied up in evaluating other people. My guess is that a 23 page evaluation, does in fact, have some emotional verbiage. Perhaps, through the evaluators eyes, it’ factual…however, if I were to read this document, I am certain I would find some emotional context cues in the evaluation. But, this is true for many evaluations in the business community. Evaluations like that don’t provide much solid direction – rather, they put the person being evaluated in a defensive mode. If the person were doing extremely well, would they be deserving of a 23 page evaluation? Most likely they wouldn’t get that much attention if they were doing well.

The major concern I have with all of this is…why won’t the Commissioners get together with their individual evaluations in private and write a comprehensive evaluation from the entire City Commission? This Commission constantly shows they are divided…with everything.

It would be illogical to expect Ms. Ard (or anyone) to have to try and follow all of the recommendations from all of the individual reports. If a frontline worker had to follow evaluations from seven different people, they wouldn’t know which direction to go. Again, that is because evaluations are emotional. I have not only been conducting evaluations for over 20 years, but I have designed very detailed systematic evaluation programs for the government and the corporate environment. As objective and quantitative we want them to be…they are not.

If the commission is evaluating someone objectively – based on an actual scale and how goals were met – the evaluations would be similar and even have an “average”. You can measure factual data. Then, the person being evaluated knows where they need improvement and where they are doing well.

But, the Commission should come together and offer the City Manager a comprehensive evaluation. This is what professionals do. How can the City Commissioners expect their citizens to unite when….everything we hear about them is divided? Seriously, this isn’t that complicated.



With all due respect, and I truly do mean respect, I disagree on evaluations being more subjective than objective. But perhaps that's due to the process my employer uses. Getting ready for the annual review period, we require each employee to submit 3-5 names of people they've consistently worked with or provided deliverables to in the previous year. After receiving the names, I send out a basic questionnaire to each person in separate emails, requesting they provide feedback of how my direct report supported them, specific examples of measured deliverables, what the employee did well, and what improvements or growth should the employee address.

In parallel, I require each employee to conduct a self-appraisal, again providing evidence of measurable results. It's not acceptable for a result to be measured with phrases such as "Improved the run-time execution of the test program", or "Increased mfg. production output". Instead, the self-appraisal would have to be written with phrases such as "Improved the run-time execution of the test program from 2 hours to less than 1 hour", or "Increased mfg. product output from 20 units/hr to 32 units/hr while maintaining all quality goals and at no additional cost".

In over 25 years of managing personnel, peer feedback reviews have provided feedback that's always consistent in terms of an employee's performance. Not once have I received a peer review inconsistent with other peer reviews.

As for the employee, I've coached many a direct report on what is and what is not a good self review. I use the employee self-evaluation as a basis for writing the final review. In writing the final review, I include quotes from the peer reviews where applicable, either to showcase to the employee praise from a peer or manager, or an area for improvement/development as provided by a peer that's consistent with the area of improvement/development I'm also showcasing. And it's definitely the area of improvement/development where the peer feedback is key because the employee is able to read it wasn't just my observation of where they needed to improve/develop, thus greatly helping to reduce the subjectivity in a review. I've definitely had employees who didn't overall do very well, or didn't do well in a targeted area, with each of these employees not liking the message they were reading, but having the peer feedback information included in the review greatly helped to give the review more of an objective flavor to it.

I absolutely agree with your last paragraph. The Commission should indeed work together on this. And yes, it isn't that complicated. I'd like to suggest the Commissioners consider having an independent individual help them through the review process...someone who is focused on the process and getting to a unified review result.



All I can say is be very careful when using subjectivity and that type of verbiage in the formal evaluation process. This is very important. I keep my thumb on the pulse of litigation in this area of business, as well as the area of equal opportunity. What happens is…when you are using subjectivity in your formal appraisal process…employees can sue for many things - - plus, using subjectivity makes a good case for the person suing you – because, many of those things are easy to prove.

Lawyers and/or investigative bodies look for patterns in your verbiage…clues in your word usage…and, they do so in all the employees you review. If they find a pattern, they will make a case of it. Therefore, when you use subjective material to evaluate someone, they can find context cues that you may not know is there. Your limbic system does have the ability to control this process…without you even knowing it. That is why so many companies today are blindsided by lawsuits. Supervisors say: “Well, I didn’t mean to say that” - - “That isn’t what I really meant” or “I thought I was being fair”. I don’t recommend subjective evaluations for any company – under any circumstance.

The major reasons lawsuits today are filed are because of illegal questioning during interviews, verbiage used during the termination process…AND…subjective feedback to employees. This is why large companies will only use a formal numeric rating system. Then, to set goals and coach for high performance, they use other strategies. It can be very difficult to use a subjective process AND be fair. Subjectivity and peer reviews also lends itself to that ‘ole “popularity contest” too.

Goals and objectives can be measured…how peers “feel” about someone cannot be accurately measured. This is a very dangerous ground. I am a fan of the 360 degree review process...but, that has gotten people into trouble too...based on patterns of their subjective evaluation behaviors.



Most excellent feedback. Thank you.

My employer is a Fortune 100 company with over 100,000 employees. Our review process has stood the test of time. All employees continuously receive training, mentoring and support in how to rate performance using objectivity and data as opposed to subjectivity and "feelings". Managers also review each other's performance reviews of their direct reports. Any reviews resulting in an action where an employee is recommended for disciplinary action of any kind, up to and including recommendation to terminate, receive additional scrutiny and review with not only peer and more senior level managers, but also a group's HR representative and HR legal representatives.

I've been directly involved in some number of employee review challenges. I've learned much over the years. And I clearly remember the few legal challenges, with the outcomes being the review results, while painful and difficult, had clear, concise, irrefutable data supporting the results.


Hey all you fellow Bloggville bloggers. If ya think the City is in turmoil now wait until Julie "Bobblehead" Farrar becomes Commission President and Jeff "The Ostridge" Smith becomes Vice President after the November election. Goodness forbid if Scott "the $100,000 check" Schell gets elected.

Julie R.

I don't know why the city of Sandusky just doesn't hire a silver-tongued devil lawyer as the city manager and be done with it. I have a gut feeling that's what it's boiling down to, anyway ...... but I won't mention any specific name.


Our city is in constant turmoil due to inexperienced city manager and elected officials who haven't the capability to lead. Some people are getting away with things that they shouldn't be doing and the elected officials look the other way instead of addressing the situation. The commissioners have no backbone to stand up for what is right and what is wrong anymore. It does no good to elected new commissioners in because the past commissioners keep coming back, after term limits are done, to run again. It becomes a continuous circle of bad management.

Julie R.

Murray was involved in the expensive Nuesse fiasco ........ and now he's back running for city commissioner. After Schell got fired in the Nuesse fiasco, he became the executive director of the land bank ........ and now he, too, is back running for a city commissioner seat.

The more things change in Sandusky the more they stay the same. Sort of like the county ---- they got rid of Maschari and it's even worse now.


After reading all of these post, why don't some of the experts run for commission?


I couldn't agree more with this statement. They complain on here about this one and that one getting elected or getting this or that position but I don't see their names on any ballot. Why is that?


Hey guys... uhh they capitalized the A in Card. Way to go on the grammar error.. lol


It is a play on words, incorporating the name Ard into card. No error.


LOL!!!!! classic!!!! good one guys!!!!


How does Diedre rate an individual's performance in the workplace?

What experience does Diedre have in managing individuals... let alone holding a non-management job?

Matt Westerhold

Thanks citizen. Those and other questions would be good to ponder while reading through the document. We'll post it here as soon as we receive it from the city, or you can request a copy of it from commission.


How does reading through Diedre's 23 page eval answer the question of her professional and educational qualifications to effectively evaluate or manage an individual or group of individuals?

Does Diedre have management experience (or any experience for that matter) in the real world?

You don't need a copy of a 23 page evaluation from her to answer those questions, I don't believe.

dorothy gale

Maybe Ms. Cole wants to be city manager?