The recent explosive news concerning the allegations contained in the battery charge against Marco Island’s former City Manager, Dr. Lee Niblock has raised a larger issue of what some sitting city councilors knew, and did to keep the incident quiet before it became public.
Witness statements contained in the Collier County Sheriff’s Office investigative report indicate that on February 2nd, Melissa Scott, principal of Marco Island Academy, confided to Jane Watt, the school’s founder and chairperson, the details surrounding an alarming and disturbing incident involving Niblock.
According to the narrative report, Watt states that she received permission from Scott to reach out to Councilor Larry Honig, “a trusted person on the city council.” Honig in his interview with investigators states that he was contacted on February 2 by Jane Watt. Watt relayed to Councilor Honig the details of Scott’s encounter with Niblock. Honig suggested that Watt reach out to Chairman Jared Grifoni, which she did on February 5.
A third city councilor, Victor Rios reached out to Watt on February 5, and told her he had a conversation with Niblock who stated “he did not care for or like” Melissa Scott, allegedly an attempt to disparage Scott’s reputation through a third party.
Neither Chairman Grifoni nor Councilor Honig advised any law enforcement agency of the alleged crime, after becoming aware of the incident.
Watt told investigators that Chairman Grifoni promised on February 5 that he would speak to Niblock. In the meantime, Melissa Scott reported the incident verbally to Sergeant Mark Haueter and Marco Island Police Chief Al Schettino. As a result of that conversation, Chief Schettino advised the City Attorney Alan Gabriel and all city council members that he was opening an investigation regarding a “city employee,” without specifically naming Niblock.
At the Marco Island City Council Meeting on February 20, wherein Niblock voluntarily placed himself on a paid leave of absence, all seven councilors disavowed knowledge of the incident until receiving the February 16 email from Chief Schettino. That email advised them of the charge of battery being made against Niblock.
In fact, Council Chair Grifoni in a TV interview made with Karl Fortier of FOX 4 News on February 19, stated he “and no councilors had any knowledge of the incident or the persons involved” until he read the February 16 email.
That statement conflicts with facts contained in the investigation. Grifoni appears to have been fully engaged in what some may refer to as an attempt to make the issues “go away,” as early as February 5th.
The investigative report by the Collier County Sheriff’s Office indicates that Council Chairman Grifoni may have attempted to broker “a resolution of terms,” wherein Niblock would apologize for any misunderstanding, but admit to no guilt. Scott would also have been required to offer an apology. The proposed agreement stipulated that Niblock would stay away from Scott and deal with the Marco Island Academy through a designated representative. As a result of that understanding he would remain in position as City Manager.
Council Chairman Grifoni advised Jane Watt that if Melissa Scott did not agree to the terms, that “it would be more difficult to move forward with the legislative priority for the MIA,” according to the investigators’ interviews with Jane Watt.
All attempts to have her sign such a document were rejected by Ms. Scott.
Throughout the month, negotiations and strategy sessions were held behind the scenes to attempt to reach a resolution to save Niblock’s job. However, the steadfast resolution of Scott to reject any outcome less than Niblock’s dismissal were rejected.
According to the investigator’s report, detailed discussion were held between Chairman Grifoni, the city’s attorney and Mr. Niblock throughout early to mid-February, prior to the February 20 council meeting, where the council would accept Mr. Niblock’s offer to take a paid leave.
This also calls into question who was directing the city’s law firm to draw up documents which would have shielded Mr. Niblock and allowed him to stay on without answering for his alleged crime, of which he has now officially been charged.
Since then a second complaint alleging battery was lodged against Niblock by a woman from Gainesville, Florida from an incident late last year, which mirrors the allegations here on Marco Island.
Attempts by Collier County investigators to interview Niblock were rejected by his attorney.
Now the big questions on Marco Island is why did some councilors misrepresent their involvement and their knowledge of the events which have led up to the arrest of Niblock.
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