March 22, 2019 saw the application deadline in Marco Island’s search for a permanent city manager.
The process began shortly after the November 2016 election, which saw former City Manager Roger Hernstadt resign in February 2017.
Almost immediately, council began its search for a new manager by utilizing the Mercer Group and their representative W.D. Higginbotham, Jr. That first search ended in a testy exchange between Councilor Larry Honig and Higginbotham.
The exchange came about when some councilors were uncomfortable giving the thumbs up to the sole city manager candidate. Council voted 4 to 3 against offering the job to Josh Gruber of Beaufort, South Carolina. The vote followed nearly 3½ hours of discussion and two days of interviews. On the evening prior to the council’s vote, a “meet and greet” for Gruber and his wife was described by some as a “premature coronation” of Gruber.
The Mercer Group sent a letter to the city that raised concerns over the actions of then Vice-Chairman Jared Grifoni and then Chairman Larry Honig during the search process.
Mercer and Higginbotham agreed to resume the search process early in August 2017, and once again, reached out to potential candidates. That effort brought forward several candidates, of which council selected Dr. Lee Niblock. Niblock had only recently been discharged from his duties as the county manager in Alachua County.
Niblock began his duties as Marco Island City Manager early in December 2017. But by early February 2018, just two months into the job, he was embroiled in a scandal that saw him discharged from his position in March 2018. One year later, Niblock pled “no-contest” to charges of battery against him.
The incident involved unwanted advances made against the female principal of Marco Island Academy. Those charges could have carried a $1,000 fine and one year of incarceration or 12 months of probation. According to court documents, Niblock would pay only $572 in court costs and another $50 in prosecution costs with no requirement of confinement or probation mandated.
Over Two Years of Turmoil
By some accounts, the city has failed to reach its potential due to a lack of strong leadership in the corner office. However, as part of a staff survey of present and former employees, only 17% of respondents believed city council was acting in the best interest of the city.
Remarks were made that the Marco Island 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 towards staff, often in public forums.
Other comments suggested members of city council were trying to advance their own agendas, and at times when interacting with staff, used intimidation and incited fear of job loss.
Application Period Closed for Manager Position
On the urging of Vice-Chair Charlette Roman, the city has been working with the Florida City and County Management Association (FCCMA) and their Senior Advisor program to fill the open position of city manager. They successfully acquired the services of David Harden to fill the fulltime interim position, allowing Gil Polanco to return to his position as the city’s finance director. Harden has been on the job since early January 2019.
On Friday, March 22, when the application period closed, the city had received 60 resumes for the manager position. The resumes covered job seekers throughout the United States and Canada. They reflected a great deal of experience both in government and the private sector.
Ken Parker of the Senior Advisor program and his colleagues will now review all of the submitted resumes and reduce the number to ten prospects. At the April 1 city council meeting, councilors will review those resumes, and then further reduce the number to approximately three to five candidates.
Councilors will have the opportunity to add some of their own contacts to the list of candidates provided to them by the Senior Advisors.
Three to five finalists will undergo a thorough background search before coming to council for interviews in May. The interviews will be set on days and times to insure all councilors will be present.
The Marco Island City Council will meet on Monday, April 1, 2019 at 5:30 PM in council chambers at 51 Bald Eagle Drive. Meetings are open to the public or may be viewed on Comcast Channel 93 or 98, Summit Broadcasting Channel 97 or 98, and Century Link Channel 93.