The Marco Island City Council meeting on Monday, May 7 was a combination of recognitions, debates, scolding and verbal sparring.
Although the meeting began with celebratory proclamations, the lingering shadows created by former City Manager Lee Niblock’s departure, and questions regarding the actions of at least two councilors and the city attorney, became front and center in the evening’s contentious discussions.
The meeting would begin with a terse exchange between Councilor Joe Batte and Council Chair Jared Grifoni, when Batte requested the opportunity to speak prior to the beginning of the regular agenda. Grifoni ruled that Batte was out of order on his request, which resulted in a heated exchange after asking for the courtesy of being asked to speak.
Councilor Bob Brown asked for a discussion regarding the recent Collier County Sheriff’s Report and asked for it to be placed on the agenda early on in the meeting to allow many of those in attendance to speak to that issue. Chairman Grifoni initially ruled against that request, causing an outburst from the audience in opposition to his ruling.
The City Attorney stated that any member could ask for an item to be added to the agenda, wherein Councilor Larry Honig quoted the council rules of procedure, which would require a super-majority vote of five councilors to add that item.
When the roll call vote was taken Councilors Brown, Batte, Howard Reed and Charlette Roman would vote in favor of the motion, with Chairman Grifoni and Councilors Honig and Rios opposed to adding the item.
The council began the evening recognizing three educators from Marco Island who were named as “Outstanding Educators” by the Education Foundation of Collier County. Receiving the awards were Mabel Pena of Tommie Barfield Elementary School, Kathy Albanese of Marco Island Charter Middle School, and Lori Galiana of Marco Island Academy.
The next proclamation recognized National Safe Boating Week, May 19-25. All of the island organizations involved in boating safety were represented at the meeting, wearing life jackets to show that they are focusing their efforts to insure that boaters wear proper flotation devices.
The final proclamation of the evening was presented to Bart Bradshaw of the Marco Island Utility Department for his 25 years of service to the citizens of Marco Island. His career started with Southern States Utilities in 1993 when he began as a meter reader. He would progress in his responsibilities to the position of Collection and Distribution Manager in 1997. Bradshaw’s wife Judy accompanied him to the evening meeting where he received the award.
A discussion was held regarding an ordinance previously approved by the Planning Board. The ordinance would have caused new home side yard setbacks to be protected, by limiting the intrusions of mounting pool, generator and air conditioning utilities on four-foot pads, which now are allowed, to intrude into the setback.
Under the provisions of the newly amended ordinance, the home would have to be reduced in size or those utilities mounted in alcoves on the sides of homes, which could cause efficiency and operational issues.
Councilor Howard Reed questioned the rationale of doing that, and raised the potential reduction in life expectancy of that equipment and possible increased noise. He moved to have the ordinance amended and revert to the original requirements.
Council passed the change proposed by Councilor Reed by a 7-0 vote.
Council would, however, reject an ordinance which would have returned responsibility to approve site plan review to the staff and planning board, provided there are no requests for variances from the present Land Development Code. The present process requires oversight by the city council once those plans have passed staff and the planning board. The board has voted twice 7-0 in favor.
The staff and planning board were in favor of this proposal to streamline the process. It still would have provided for public notice and review by the planning board.
Councilors Reed, Roman, Rios and Batte would oppose the motion to approve, therefore killing the proposal.
Community Discussion on Niblock Case
Prior to opening the community discussion on issues surrounding the dismissal of City Manager Lee Niblock, Council Chairman Jared Grifoni turned the discussion over to City Attorney Alan Gabriel for comments on the matter. Gabriel cautioned citizens not to take comments out of context from the report made by the investigating officers of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office.
Resident Joe Granda came to the podium to admonish both Council Chairman Jared Grifoni and Councilor Larry Honig for their alleged involvements behind the scenes regarding the Niblock incident, and for alleged violations of the City Charter concerning interference with operations regarding personnel matters.
Granda requested that Chairman Grifoni step down, saying that he had violated the trust of the community and the terms of the City Charter, a move that Grifoni would strongly reject later in the meeting.
Others came forward to support both Honig and Grifoni, and spoke of their honesty and character. Residents Keith Flaugh and Robert Olson spoke as to both councilors’ character.
Resident Bill McMullan came forward to champion the character of the victim, describing her as a hero for coming forward. He called into question the actions of not only Grifoni and Honig, but that of the city attorney, promising that more incriminating emails and texts would soon come forward.
McMullan displayed a copy of the alleged document that outlined a resolution, which would have served to bury the matter and retain Mr. Niblock as city manager. McMullan alleged that the document was developed by the city attorney. The city attorney alleged that it was the victim’s attorney that created the document, and not the city.
Phares Heindl came forward to defend both Honig and Grifoni, but minimized his impact when he sought to diminish the charge of “simple battery.” The response to his attempt at minimizing what the charges of “simple battery” meant met with disfavor by many in the audience.
“This is not the time to be looking for a new city manager under these circumstances,” said Kathleen Reynolds, who rose to speak to the problems surrounding the Niblock issue and why the city should take a step back and review how they deal with sexual harassment.
Erin Milchman, speaking on behalf of the Marco Patriots, came forward to announce that she and her board of directors support both Grifoni and Honig because of the close working relationship they have created.
Chairman Grifoni and Councilor Honig responded to the criticism of their actions by laying out a timeline and their discussions with the city attorney. Grifoni took issue with McMullan’s threat to make a complaint to the Florida Bar Association, and spoke of his commitment to the community.
COPCN Referendum Language & Commissioners’ Meeting
Council continued to debate the language for the upcoming referendum question and how they would deal with the mechanism for payment for the program. One suggestion was to have it appear as a special line item on a taxpayer’s annual bill.
Council chose to leave the verbiage for the ballot question as it presently is.
Councilor Reed is still unsure of the costs for program and voted against the language for the ballot question as he feels more information is necessary. The item passed 6-1.
City representatives will meet with the Collier County Commissioners relative to the report of the Emergency Medical Advisory Board (EMA) to discuss their 3-2 vote to approve a “Conditional COPCN” for Marco Island. That would require the following:
- Agree not to seek relief from our ad valorem tax participation in Collier County EMS funding.
- A positive vote in the August Referendum seeking voter approval.
- Creation of a suitable interlocal agreement with the county.
The Board of County Commissioners will meet on May 22 to discuss the EMA’s report at their chambers in the county complex in Naples.
The next meeting of Marco Island City Council will be on May 21 at 5:30 PM in Council Chambers at 51 Bald Eagle Drive.
Scott Representative Contests
On behalf of Melissa Scott, an anonymous source disputes that the draft Resolution was created on Scott’s request.
The source confirms Chairman Grifoni requested Scott and Jane Watt contact the city attorney to relay details of the alleged incident. Scott, her attorney and the MIA attorney, had a conference call with the city’s legal team. Grifoni and Watt did not take part in the conference call.
The source states the city drafted a Resolution neither proposed nor written by Scott or her representative, contradicting allegations made at the May 7 council meeting.
The proposed Resolution allowed Niblock to remain city manager and silenced any complaints from Scott, closing down further inquiry. Scott pursued a criminal complaint feeling the city wouldn’t adequately address the situation.