For the last several months, Councilor Howard Reed has attempted to convince his colleagues on the Marco Island City Council that they should concentrate their efforts on hiring a permanent replacement to fill the vacant position of Marco Island City Manager.
Council’s latest attempts relied upon utilizing the services of the Florida Association of City and County Managers. This was an effort brought a few months ago by Councilor Charlette Roman, who saw it as a way to move the process forward.
Some questioned whether this was a wise choice, given the fact that an election was looming on the horizon and three seats would be filled for the seven-person board. The present council has struggled, during an almost 19-month period since the resignation of former city manager Roger Hernstadt, to place a permanent city manager. Dr. Lee Niblock briefly held the position as city manager until he was fired, and subsequent battery charges were filed against him.
Council interviewed David Harden, the last candidate of the three finalists, on Thursday evening following a day of private one-on-one conversations.
Earlier last week council met with Maria Menendez from Coral Gables and James Hock of Michigan, both of whom have extensive municipal management experience.
Councilor Reed voiced his displeasure with the process early on, especially with the open-ended, private negotiations regarding contract details, which were to be held only between the Council Chairman and the successful candidate (if one was to be chosen).
Details have begun to emerge regarding the closed door negotiations with Dr. Lee Niblock. It appears that Niblock strong-armed a better deal from council than had been originally agreed upon when those negotiations went into a closed door meeting with the council chairman and the city attorney. At a previous council meeting, Reed displayed a chart showing what was originally voted upon and what was finally agreed to.
The disclosure of a complaint of battery against the principal of Marco Island Academy caused Niblock to step aside from his duties as city manager in February 2018. Niblock was terminated for cause on March 19 and on April 26 was officially charged with first-degree misdemeanor battery. Subsequent questions arose as to the extent of involvement by some city councilors regarding their knowledge and attempts to mediate an agreement to allow Niblock to retain his position.
After failing to reach the requisite super majority vote of five to hire a manager based upon the requirements of the City Charter, both Councilors Larry Honig and Jared Grifoni questioned Reed’s motives for his vote. Councilors Honig and Roman have been critical of Interim City Manager Gil Polanco in the past, and their desires to find a replacement for him, whether temporary or permanently, are well known.
Councilor Joe Batte came to Reed’s defense when Chairman Grifoni repeatedly asked him to justify his vote. “Mr. Chairman I’ve sat here for two years and never once questioned your motives or reasons for your votes, you are badgering Councilor Reed.”
“I believe we have failed for numerous reasons to not accomplish the goal of hiring a manager of excellence,” said Reed and would later list off a litany of reasons he felt they as a group they had failed.
The meeting would end without a resolution of how to move forward and the issue would be brought up again on October 15 at council’s next meeting.
Councilor Bob Brown was absent for medical reasons.
Since the meeting on October 1, Councilors Brown, Batte and Reed have been roundly criticized over social media for wishing to allow the newly-seated council to deal with the issue.
Pick up the Coastal Breeze News on Friday, October 12 for an in-depth report on Marco Island’s 19-month struggle to find a city manager.