Friday, July 19, 2019

A Snapshot of 2018

Former City Manager Lee Niblock. | Photos by Steve Stefanides

For such a small community on the coast of Southwest Florida, Marco Island certainly knows how to make its share of news from year to year.

Niblock Debacle

One of the items that has played front and center for the last year has revolved around a scandal which mirrored the national news exposing powerful men attempting to use that influence and authority to bring pressure against young women for their own advantage.

The story in 2018 became that women were no long going to sit idly by and be afraid to speak out.  It appears Dr. Lee Niblock, who had only held the office of Marco Island City Manager for two and a half months, may have chosen the wrong young lady to pursue when he made advances against the Principal of the Marco Island Academy.

Niblock would be dismissed “for cause,” in March, after the council previously agreed to allow him to take a “paid leave of absence,” at their February meeting.  After a completion of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office investigation, Niblock was charged with first-degree misdemeanor battery and awaits a January 2019 trial.

Manager Search

The Marco Island City Council would continue to struggle for the next eight months to find a way forward, until late summer, when Councilor Charlette Roman presented a plan to utilize a volunteer group of former city and county managers affiliated with the Florida Association of City and County Managers.  By September, they would bring forth a group of finalists for the interim city manager position.

Councilors Joe Batte and Bob Brown would be leaving council and an election would bring forth the possibility of four new councilors.  Both Brown and Batte believed it would be best to let the newly constituted council to make that choice and Councilor Howard Reed would prefer to spend the time finding a permanent manager, as he believed that Gil Polanco who was filling that void was doing a good job.

The choice for a new manager would eventually be left until after the election. By the January 7, 2019 meeting the final contract between David Harden as interim city manager and the city will come to the full board for their approval.

COPCN

Council will address the Interim City Manager contract for David Harden on January 7.

The debate on whether Marco Island should provide its own Emergency Medical Service Transport had been discussed for over a year and a half.  It would leave wounds that would not soon be healed, but in the end the voters would decide not to choose that option.  Since the referendum vote in August, the county and city have been exploring other possibilities to enhance services.

Former Growth Management Director Fined

The controversy surrounding the dismissal of Brian Milk did not end with his dismissal. Jerry Helms, the owner of Marco Storage and Mario Rizzi of Rizzi Storage were both not satisfied with the fact Brian Milk was just simply allowed to walk away from what Helms described as a “breach of trust.” 

They would both file an ethics complaint with the State of Florida. The Commission Advocate in June found there was adequate evidence showing enough suggestion of wrongdoing to warrant a hearing before the ethics panel regarding three of the allegations.

Section 112.3145 Florida Statutes, by failing to disclose ownership in and/or income from two private entities on the CE Form 1, “Statement of Financial Interests” for calendar years 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Violated Section 112.313(6) by using his official position to secure a special privilege, benefit or exemption for himself and/or others.

Violated Section 112.313(7)(a) Florida Statues by maintaining a contractual relationship with certain business entities, which were subject to the regulation of and/or doing business with his own agency.

This fall the board found that Milk had violated those three items and ordered him to pay a fine of $5,000, but with no jail time.

“I am satisfied that we’ve finally seen some semblance of justice in this matter,” said Helms.  “This was a matter of a violation of the trust of our citizens by one of our employees and we should hold them to a high standard of ethical responsibility,” concluded Helms.

Permitting Issues

The backlog of issuing permits continued to be an issue in 2018 as a result of the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. “We are diligently working each day to streamline the process and make it more efficient,” said Raul Perez, the city’s Building Inspector.  “We understand our residents’ frustration with the process and the problems affiliated with those delays, but they can be assured we believe we’ve turned the corner and they’ll be seeing the improvements they desire,” said Perez.

MICMS Has a Birthday

The community celebrated the 20th anniversary of the creation of the Marco Island Charter Middle School (MICMS) earlier this year.

Over their twenty years of existence the school has been awarded numerous academic and scholastic awards, including being named as a “High Performing Middle School,” by the State of Florida.  They were also named the #4 Best Charter School in the State of Florida.

“I think we’ve really demonstrated what a collaborative effort can produce between a public charter school and the public-school system when you work together for the benefit of the children within a community,” said George Abounader, the longtime principal of MICMS.



ALF Debate

Assisted Living Facilities and whether they should be located on Marco Island, how large they should be, and whom they would benefit has become a major discussion in the last six months as two separate proposals have come before the city.

A further discussion will come January 22, 2019 when a proposal will come before the Marco Island City Council for such a project on the property surrounding NCH’s Urgent Care Facility at the intersection of San Marco Road and Bald Eagle Drive.

Election 2018

The city election of 2018 returned one incumbent and brought forward two newcomers. When the votes were tabulated, Victor Rios was returned to office for a second and final four-year term.  In addition to his victory the community tapped Erik Brechnitz and
Sam Young.

At their organizational meeting in November, Brechnitz was elected council chair and Rios was elected vice-chair. Brechnitz promised to bring a more civil tone to the dais and to shorten the somewhat long meetings.

Rough Year For Marco’s Men in Blue

During the last year, several officers had to be reprimanded and some were discharged from their duties due to inappropriate conduct while on duty.  “When an issue is brought to us, we will investigate it and take whatever steps are felt to be appropriate.  In this case it cost some of the individuals their jobs, but we will not tolerate these types of unprofessional actions,” said Chief Al Schettino when he was questioned about it earlier this year.

Photo by Steve Stefanides

Smoother Ride For Some

2018 was a year that council would respond to residents’ pleas for smoother travels around the island.  Funds that had been allocated but not spent from previous years were released and a number of roadways around Marco Island were resurfaced.

According to some, many of the issues were a direct result of the repaving done after the much-debated Septic Tank Replacement Program (STRP).   

Training and Cooperation Saves a Life

The cooperative efforts and professionalism between the Marco Island Police Department, Naples Police Department and the Collier County Sheriff’s Office was credited as having saved lives on Sunday, December 30, as a man barricaded himself and was prepared to engage with law enforcement during a six-and-a-half-hour standoff with the three agencies, according to Marco Island Police Chief Al Schettino.

“The residents of the community should know from the minute we were advised and responded, that we had the situation contained.  We did evacuate the neighborhood as a precautionary measure and then just continued to work with the subject to diffuse the situation and prevent injuries or a loss of life,” said Schettino.

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