Over the last two weeks, the island and its residents have been abuzz with the news that the new City Manager, Dr. Lee Niblock, is under investigation by the Collier County Sheriff’s Office regarding a claim of battery made by a female resident.
Since then, public records requests made by multiple individuals have discovered some disturbing supplemental information concerning plans by the city manager. Those plans were being communicated via several emails to Councilman Larry Honig earlier in February. In those emails the city manager refers to what he describes as plans for a “Valentine’s Day Massacre” of several employees being in the works.
Under the City Charter only the city manager may direct staff, hire or fire those who hold positions within the city government. A councilor may not instruct a city manager to fire an employee or to discipline one. The weakness in the Charter, however, lies in the fact that there are no teeth in that document for punishment regarding a councilman’s indiscretions and violations of the details of the Charter.
A recent Climate Survey of city employees, which was undertaken shortly after the council was seated in 2016, showed 80 percent of those employees responding saying they liked their job, 94 percent indicated that they believed the work they were doing was important. The response rate accounted for 61 percent of present and former employees to the questionnaire.
In regards to council’s interaction with staff, the report states, “Remarks were made that City Council needs to stop micromanaging and have confidence in staff, allowing them to do their jobs. Further, city council was viewed as being disrespectful and antagonistic to staff, often in public forums. Other comments suggested members of city council were trying to advance their own agendas, at times using intimidation and inciting fear of job loss.”
It has been rumored that Niblock and some councilors were unhappy with certain directors within the city staff.
Niblock utilized disparaging remarks to refer to the entire staff as, “the most dysfunctional organization I’ve ever seen.” He went on to deride the management style of his staff as “Caspar Milquetoast management, up to and including the manager.” This was an obvious reference to Guillermo Polanco, the city’s finance manager, for his soft-spoken mannerisms.
Polanco has spent already 14 months as the Acting City Manager. This was done both during the search to find a replacement for former City Manager Jim Riviere when he stepped aside in 2013. He was also called upon to fill the void created in February of 2017 for another 10 months when then City Manager Roger Hernstadt stepped down.
In that February 15th email to Councilman Honig, Niblock closed by saying, “The St. Valentine’s Day massacre will be a little late this year. You will be pleased.”
Polanco and the entire city staff received rave reviews from the community as to their response as a team before, during, and after Hurricane Irma hit the island on September 10, 2017. A detailed “After Action Report” for recommendations by the staff has been created for the council and public. No action has been taken by council on the concise and detailed incident report.
Council will convene for its first meeting in March tonight at 5:30 PM in Council Chambers, 51 Bald Eagle Drive.
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