Stick fork in

Matt Westerhold
Oct 21, 2013




After four months bobbing, weaving, ducking and re-grouping, five Sandusky city commissioners finally approved a performance evaluation for city manager Nicole Ard on Thursday.

All that's left is to vote on her raise.

After all those weeks and careful review, commissioners Julie Farrar, Jeff Smith, Pervis Brown, Keith Grohe and John Hamilton summed it up in 127 words, skipping any detail, any depth, any value.

And skipping the dissent.

Evaluations critical of Ard's job performance submitted in September by commissioners Wes Poole and Diedre Cole were not incorporated, discussed, read or considered by commission's majority coalition.

The resulting “consensus” doesn't seem objective or pretend to really understand the complexities of the city's top-paid job. It might be those five commissioners simply don't have the capacity.

They can't grasp it.

The city manager's position is more similar to a traditional mayor's role, more common in city governments.

Except residents don't get to vote for the city manager.

Sandusky city commissioners do.

Or, more precisely, five of the seven commissioners do.

Farrar, Smith, Brown, Grohe and Hamilton somehow agreed what the performance evaluation would state during multiple closed-door meetings, barring the public.

They somehow agreed on the consensus and agreed, in those private meetings, not to read the dissenting views. They did that without voting on anything, because votes, winks and nods during private government meetings are prohibited by law.

Once all 127 words of the evaluation were arranged on the page, just right, they still needed one more private meeting so they could agree — not vote — to remove the last two sentences from the last draft, of their "consensus" evaluation.

Here's what got scratched from the final version: "It needs to be noted that the Sandusky City Commission does highly express that Ms. Ard does need an administrative assistant. That would ensure that she would have sufficient time to devote her expertise to to the running of the City of Sandusky."

Turns out they didn't need to "highly express" that.

The 127 words left in the “consensus” evaluation can be boiled down to just 38: The city manager met all or most of her goals; she made some great hires; she's innovative; she's cool under pressure; she needs to improve her communication skills; she needs to find a way to present information better.

Disjointed, perhaps?

The “consensus” dismisses the 12 goals, dispatching them into oblivion. So much for the $22,000 city taxpayers forked over to develop those goals and the job description. It was good while it lasted.

Farrar, Smith, Brown, Grohe and Hamilton's “consensus” reduces Ard's burden from a dozen goals down to just two, going forward: She needs to improve her communication skills; she needs to find a way to present information better.




Steak gets done; work gets finished.

Here's work that still needs finished. Ard, commissioners, or someone, should consider this list of goals:

*Take immediate steps to repair your relationship with city commission's audit and finance committee and be responsive to requests from committee members for documentation on budget matters. Do not respond to their requests with hand-written notes. Use Excel or some other office programming to present budget information in a professional way. 

*Inform the public of the options that exist for cutting less vital services from the budget to reduce 2014 expenses so as to meet the anticipated $1 million drop in revenue. Get feedback from residents. 

*Determine whether payroll cuts can be made while still filling key middle management positions that remain unfilled. Make a decision.

*Propose options for re-assigning job responsibilities to restore key functions of those positions, if hiring option is determined to be too costly. 

*Engage Bowling Green State University, Sandusky Schools and Trust for Public Land officials in a conversation about the Sandusky Bay Pavilion property as you were instructed: Partner with public institutions to preserve the parkland. Make a presentation to update all seven commissioners and residents on the status of those conversations. Develop a plan to present information and regular updates to the community on this project and get feedback from residents. 

*Begin a public conversation about downtown development; waterfront development; commercial development along First Street leading to Meigs Street and the downtown business district. Engage the members of the pro-development and pro-preservation factions. Do not be controlled by the Sandusky Main Streets association.

*Take immediate steps to resolve the city's lawsuit against Erie County and reach out to county commissioners to repair the damaged relationship. Foster better relations with other the county and with other governments and review all potential collaboration, consolidation or regionalizing of services options — including IT services — that would assist in reducing expenses to meet current and real budget constraints. 

Get moving. 


Matt Westerhold

This is the list of goals that came to mind when I was writing this column Saturday morning. Please post the goals you want city commission and the city manager to focus on in 2014 here in the comments section.  Thanks. 


I did not know where to put this but great job voted best paper in Ohio, on Mondays paper 10/21/13 nice job of getting the pictures wrong on Cole and Poole. What a joke, glad you really have no LOCAL competition. eh?

Matt Westerhold

Thanks astro. It does appear the photos of Cole and Poole were transposed in the print edition. Sorry you found that so confusing but I'm glad you were able to figure it out. Mistakes do happen and the Register publishes corrections when they do. Perhaps you have never made a mistake.

The Register competes against 16 other newspapers in our circulation division from across the state of Ohio in the annual Associated Press awards program. Perhaps you have some expertise from experience in the newspaper industry that assists you in forming your opinion. If so, your view differs apparently from the Associated Press judges who review the submissions from all those newspapers before giving the general excellence award.

The Register earned the top award for five straight years and earned the second-place award last year. The news team is proud of that distinction, and they should be. Your criticism seems petty and uninformed, but that's just my view. 


astro....I have often wondered myself if there were a second paper in Sandusky what the SR would do and how that would be handled? It would be interesting to see what happens in the face of direct competition: editorials, writers, etc. It would be interesting to say the least. And it might be fun to watch how things turned out if that competition existed.


First off, you have a "city manager" who is so arrogant, she doesn't feel she needs to answer to anyone, including the very people who hired her (try that at your job and see what happens).....she professes to be a woman of Faith but she has no problem using her position to act as judge jury and executioner.....second, you have a majority of the commissioners who almost seem intimidated by THEIR employee??!! 2 of the 3 terminations she Speer headed have been over turned and from the word I hear it could soon be 3 out of 3.....the city officials seem to be a joke and a's sad when Deidra Cole is the voice of reason...


For once I agree with The Register's Editor. While I've been of the opinion in the past that Mr. Westerhold's bias shows in both the news AND the opinion pages, the facts back him up in a big way on this one.

That the Commission would sum up its performance review of the City Manager in so few (and generic) words is appalling; I can't find the word that describes a review like this one of a City Manager that's so clearly lacking in so very many ways!

Attention, City Residents: Remember this when you vote for Commissioners in November! We demand the Manager be professional, responsible, and responsive. But there's no teeth in that demand if the Commission itself can't manage to be any of those things. Fix THAT problem, and the problem of a City Manager's weak performance will also be solved. Don't fix that problem, and we can look forward to more lawsuits, more financial woes, and more negative press that will, unfortunately, be warranted.


It is really a shame that the entire group isn't up for election. But I do know this much, there are some that need recalling even after the election. Thank goodness we have the right to do just that in this society, because if these commissioners don't start making some NEEDED changes around here, there is going to be the need for a special election soon after the November one.

dorothy gale

This "review" is a JOKE! I have a part-time job which is not nearly as important as that of a city manager, and which pays less than one tenth of the city manager's salary, and my review was much more comprehensive and in-depth than this one! And to even CONSIDER a raise is simply unconscionable. Nothing will improve in Sandusky until this form of "government" is abolished!


The city needs to hire a professional human resource director who can instruct the commissioners on how to conduct a proper evaluation and at the same time stay out of legal trouble while doing it. There was no fairness involved when two commissioners were simply left out of the decision making, oh excuse me, consensus. The leadership is so embarrassing to the city. How could they think they could get away with a consensus? It takes on the impression that the commission is operating with five commissioners instead of seven.


Why hire yet another bureaucrat when the City already has an overpaid City law director who is supposed to guide and advise the Commission on these matters. Again the problem in Sandusky for over a decade is the City is not advised by competent counsel. Icsman was, is, and will continue to be the problem.


Yet another rehash of the same story line.

Matt Westerhold

Yes, Sam, your comments are getting pretty predictable. Don't be so hard on yourself. 


Matt give me a break, "predictable" same old, rehashed storyline, must be a slow news day or week, maybe month.


I have questions regarding this entire matter? 1. Why is the SR so pre occupied with the City Manager and what she is or isn't doing? 2. By what right does the SR think they have the right to question a city official as if they were that officials boss? Is journalism not supposed to be "objective" in nature? 3. What reason does the SR have to continue the evaluation of Ms Ard when it really isn't any of the editor's, publisher's or reports business to do any questioning of the city manager other than to report the NEWS. Why question what is done in Executive session when you know good and well that is how employees of government are supposed to be disciplined and reviewed?

This city commissioners don't need the paper's help with reviewing, any more than they need their help to govern. I am sorry, but this time even Mr. Westerhold has gone too far.

Try another story soon, as many of us are really getting tired of hearing about this one. Even as a citizen of Sandusky, you really went over the edge with this one, Matt.

Matt Westerhold

Really Gramafun, you've done more commenting — all over the board — than anyone. Is there a polite way to say .... to say .... ah ... to say SIT DOWN? 


I don't always agree with what Matt or the SR prints but I will defend their right to print it, always. As far as the need to keep covering what goes on at city hall, well some one has to. Especially considering if the SR didn't cover it could you imagine how the ship of government dow there at Meigs St. would run? As far as their continued questioning of Ard and the rest, I can only call that good investigative reporting.
As long as the continued direction is being taken at city hall do you actually think anyone will ever bring new life in the city. Some one needs to keep their feet to the fire. And maybe that someone is Matt and the rest of the gang at the SR.


Be careful Sam! It appears by the absence of several bloggers that when you are critical of the register and their agenda that they simply delete you.

Matt Westerhold

Whew. Everybody seems to have an agenda. 


Matt, we are finally in total agreement.

Matt Westerhold