The members of the Marco Island City Council face some enormous challenges as they close out the first two quarters of 2018 and head into the next half of the year.
The community is seen by many as somewhat dysfunctional, having faced a number of issues since the unfortunate incident which saw the latest city manager ejected from his position for cause, only after holding that job for three months.
That departure came after a nine-month quest to find a replacement for former City Manager Roger Hernstadt who left in February of 2017. Then came the rejection of the first search candidate who came to that position under questionable circumstances and resulted in the professional search firm walking away after a heated exchange with the then chairman of council.
Following that debacle, the Mercer Search Group came back after much encouragement in the fall and made a presentation of four additional candidates, from which councilors chose Dr. Lee Niblock, who began his position as City Manager on December 4, 2017. Then came the embarrassment regarding an incident that resulted in his removal from that position.
As part of that we became aware of the infamous email exchange between Niblock and Councilman Larry Honig, wherein the public was exposed to the loathsome referral to an impending “Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre,” of certain city employees. Niblock would go on assure the councilman that he would be “pleased,” by the outcome.
All of this would come out as a part of public records requests regarding communications between Mr. Niblock and councilors. Those requests have showed what some referred to as deceit and deception regarding who knew what and when regarding the January 31st incident.
Those emails have led many to believe there was a concerted effort to save the job of Dr. Niblock so he could continue to do their bidding, which has contributed to the growing lack of confidence by many in council’s performance.
All this time our city employees have been firsthand witnesses to this and other disrespectful behavior towards them. They have conscientiously and professionally carried out their duties while shaking their heads.
They have and are responding with great valor and dignity to one of the worst natural disasters to hit Southwest Florida in decades. They did so during the days running up to the direct hit by Hurricane Irma, as they came together as a team to plan for and deal with the direct hit. When the winds and rains subsided and it was safe for them, they hit the streets to insure it would be secure for residents to return, as we all could join together in the recovery effort.
Those challenges in continuing to deal with the aftermath of Irma are in addition to their other substantial duties and responsibilities. Our Growth Management and Building Services departments are stretched to the breaking point, with temporary personnel augmenting our own employees to carry the overload, and they are not alone.
The challenges of retaining personnel is also one which faces an administration, which for all practical purposes has lacked permanent leadership for the last 16 months. This is a challenge facing municipalities throughout the state and nationwide for various reasons.
Unlike private enterprise, everyone our employees meet are their customers. Leveraging your employee base to efficiently serve the broad customer base is a challenge, and it grows every day.
Employees need a stable environment to work within, one which they can feel confident in. This is true whether they work in Southwest Florida or on the coast of Washington State. One of those ways that we can provide that stability is to reward longevity and productivity in their employment and demonstrate to them what the future holds.
One of those ways we could accomplish this would be in the establishment of a well thought out “step pay plan.” The pay scale would assign compensation steps which reflect how long a person has been employed and rewarding them each year. Some organizations establish a plan that may take seven to ten years to reach the maximum step for the position they hold. Certain longevity bonuses may be applied to for longer serving individuals as well as merit increases.
One of the other benefits is an employee improving his educational and proficiency levels to apply for other better paying positions within the city.
Employees, the flesh and blood within our city organization, are our greatest asset. They insure that your community functions well and as their customer, they insure you are taken care of.
Providing employees a compensation plan which would help them to develop their own financial roadway for stability would make great sense. Not knowing what is ahead of them leads to the flight of that asset. Many times we spend valuable resources to train and groom them for employment by others who are quick to take advantage of our lack of vision. The costs to replace that asset causes a larger drain on our finances and affects our ability to service our customer to the standards they require.
It’s time council gave serious consideration to this process and show those valuable men and women that work for us that we are moving forward in a positive direction.
Steve Stefanides, well-known by his nickname “Stef,” is an experienced award-winning reporter of local civic and public interest news. Stef’s More Straight Talk column (and its predecessor, Straight Talk), on a variety of subjects, is a favorite of readers who trust him to bring them the facts. A Marco Island resident, Stef contributes to the community in many ways, having served on a number of city committees, charitable groups, boards and local organizations. Contact him by email at