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.


Julie R.

Maybe Mr. Murray wants to be city manager?

T. A. Schwanger


My understanding is City Manager Ard's previous reference to a "closed portion" of her contract refers to any job review or disciplinary action is closed to public inspection.

Good luck to the Register in trying to obtain records of her evaluation hence the probable reason why an attorney was hired by the City Manager.


or was that lawyer there to protect her from all the hostility she receives from a couple of commissioners on the commission or any unfair treatment she receives? Or does she need legal protection from some commissioners during evaluations?


What is wrong about hiring someone from inside city hall for City Managers spot. It seems the commissioners screwed up again. Everytime they hire someone from the outside they go astray and end up either leaving or getting themselves fired. What's wrong with our commissioners.


Have pavedpairofdice, darkhorse, and T.A.Schwanger put their hat in the ring. They seem to have all the answers.


OMG...no way. I know someone who is VERY qualified to be a city manager and it isn't any of them. He is trained in this and lives right here in Sandusky. He is qualified to be a city manager. He'd do it for less than what ARD makes.


I think Matt should have ran for Cole's seat on city commission. Then the news would be more direct than only coming from a couple of sources. This whole article has been created from 2 of 7 commissioners.

Matt Westerhold

Thanks whocares. But your math isn't right. Every commissioner was contacted for this article, and has been asked to provide their point of view and comment. We have asked they provide any written reports just as commissioners Cole and Poole chose to do. Six different city officials were quoted or otherwise provided information for the article. 


Matt, the only thing others provided was directed about Cole and Poole. There is nothing in the article about the evaluation of Ms Ard. So how can you say that any other commission commented on the evaluation of Ms Ard except Cole and Poole in the article? The entire article is about Ms Cole and Mr Poole and what they did. There is absolutely nothing in this article about any of the other commissioners and their written evaluations about Ms Ard nor what they thought about her performances as City Manager. I am really confused by your comment?


According to the paper, the evaluation isn't over with as yet. I think the paper should have waited until the process was over to be fair. The two commissioners that leaked things out should have waited until the whole thing was final. We are only getting one side of the story and we haven't seen the rest of the documentation. This whole thing looks to be pretty serious and I can understand why Ms Ard felt a need to lawyer up. I hope the city isn't looking at another lawsuit over the way the city handled the evaluation.


Having at least 2 Commissioners releasing their individual evaluation reports now could potentially turn into a legal dilemma for the City. One example: Should Ms. Ard be relieved of her position prior to her contract renewal, or not have her contract renewed as a result of a less-than-successful job performance review, Ms. Ard's lawyer might argue the 2 evaluations released independently before other commissioners completed their evaluations could have "negatively influenced" subsequent Commissioner evaluations.

Ms. Ard may not have performed to expectations, but the City Commissioners aren't necessarily working well in their collective role. The city deserves and needs strong Leadership in the City Manager role, and strong Leadership on the Commission.


Just goes to show that even the best person cannot make chicken salad out of chicken sheet!!!


now that is funny


I think it's about time Cole and Poole go back into the audience and keep Sharon company.

T. A. Schwanger


City Commission posturing regarding this issue could have easily been averted if only the Majority Coalition, using the Register's term, would have invited The Novak Consulting Group (City Manager search group) to provide periodic non biased reviews of the City Manager's meeting the goals and objectives outlined as per her and Novak's contract.


why don't you just give up and run for city commission if you have all the answers like you seem to have as write in or do you want Ard's job It would be interesting to see someone from here run the city who has lived here for a while. why don't you run for it?


Come January, the votes may turn around and Ard will be totally unprotected. There is no term limit on Ard's contract. If the commissioners want her out without showing just cause, they will have to pay her 6 months severance pay and benefits.