On February 20th Marco Island City Council voted to accept an offer by City Manager Dr. Lee Niblock to take a paid leave of absence for the duration of a battery investigation based on allegations made against him by a resident female.
Weeks have gone by and the situation remains unresolved. The city and its residents are patiently waiting for the conclusion of that inquiry by the Collier County Sheriff’s Office to see where it leads.
But the battery charge may not be the only one that Niblock could be facing, as more information about the newly-hired city manager comes to light, and more questions begin to arise. Other individuals may too be facing potential jeopardy for their actions to minimize the matter prior to the case being handed over to the sheriff’s office by the Marco Island Police.
Inside City Hall, several employees who wish to remain anonymous have reported that the workplace morale is at the lowest point ever since the departure of the former city manager in February 2017. The continued revelations of insulting remarks regarding city employees made by City Councilman Larry Honig, as well as those made by Niblock, were seen as the root cause of this malaise.
St. Valentine’s Day Massacre
In an email to Councilor Honig on February 15th, Niblock referred to city staff as “the most dysfunctional organization I’ve ever seen.” This was in a response to Councilor Honig’s continued complaints regarding a specific city employee.
In that email, Niblock promised Honig: “The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre will be a little late this year. You will be pleased.” Niblock’s words came only one day after the tragic events in Parkland, Florida, where a deranged former student murdered 17 students and faculty, and wounded 14 others.
At the March 5th city council meeting, Councilman Honig denied knowing what Niblock’s comment was in reference to. However, it was not explained why Niblock wrote that Councilor Honig would be “pleased” or even why Honig was the only councilor to receive this email.
Some community members are questioning why city council has agreed to pay Niblock while he is on leave, a leave that he specifically requested, rather than an unpaid leave subject to payment if the charges are dismissed. Others are questioning the crafting of Niblock’s employment agreement, which may ultimately cost taxpayers a staggering amount of money to conclude this issue.
Honig’s Clean House Email
At the March 5 council meeting Councilor Honig denied having any ulterior motives in what many viewed as a direct attack on Police Chief Al Schettino and the Marco Island Police Department.
However, this is contradicted in Councilor Honig’s congratulatory email to newly elected Naples City Councilor Linda Penniman, wherein Honig referred to the Marco Island Police Department as a “rogue” organization.
Councilor Honig in his email made a passing reference to the Greek legend Hercules; “I have two and a half years to support the cleaning up of the Augean stable down here,” said Honig. This is a negative, “clean- house” reference to Greek mythology and Hercules’ Fifth Labor, wherein Hercules was tasked to clean up King Augeas’ stables; a task which meant getting dirty and smelly.
In his email to Councilor Penniman, Honig further stated, “We have island wide corruption down here.” Councilor Honig’s claim is made with no substantiation, explanations or facts attached. It does not appear that Councilor Honig has reported such alleged corruption to any state investigative agencies.
These email communications are public record. City employees have read these comments, and it is causing a rising sense of discontent and unease amongst some of the most loyal staff.
Deal for Utility Review
Email disclosures from February 12, 2018 have uncovered yet another disturbing discovery, a proposed deal to grant a $22,980 contract to Mellinger Environmental LLC of Land O’ Lakes, Florida. The company, if contracted, would review the management of the Marco Island Utility.
However, a Water-Sewer Options Ad- Hoc Committee, comprised of many local experts in the utility field, completed a thorough review of the utility in October 2017. At the October 16, 2017 council meeting the ad hoc committee Chairman Rony Joel reported that they had found the utility operations to be well run by General Manager Jeff Poteet and crew. At that meeting Joel stated, “We believe Jeff Poteet and his staff are doing an outstanding job running the utility.” Following the October 2017 meeting, the Water-Sewer Options Ad-Hoc Committee met only one more time, in January 2018, with nothing on its agenda.
Councilor Honig praised the work of the Water-Sewer Options Ad-Hoc Committee, which he in fact had championed the establishment of (Resolution 17-38). Many were surprised when the Ad Hoc Committee was disbanded, only one year into its two-year term. At the city council meeting on March 5, 2018, Councilor Honig said the committee was let lapse due to Niblock’s experience with utilities. The committee was supposed to sunset no later than October 31, 2018.
Now Niblock has taken steps to retain Mellinger Environmental LLC of Land O’ Lakes, Florida for a utility review in the amount of $22,980. The questions arise, why this additional, costly review, and why this particular company?
Cloyd B. Mellinger II (aka Flip Mellinger) is listed as an authorized member in the Mellinger Environmental LLC Articles of Organization filed on January 29, 2018. The company’s address is a residence in Land O’ Lakes, Florida owned by Cloyd Mellinger. The Pasco County website lists Flip Mellinger as its Assistant County Administrator, Public Infrastructure. Another high ranking Pasco County employee is listed as the manager in Mellinger Environmental LLC’s recently filed Articles of Organization.
Newly created Mellinger Environmental was established on January 29, 2018, merely a week and a half before Niblock instructed the city’s purchasing agent to “process the appropriate documents to secure Mr. Mellinger’s services.” And in fact, the website for Mellinger Environmental LLC is nothing more than a partially completed template, with photos of individuals that are unrelated the organization.
The connection between Niblock and Mellinger is that the two men were employed by Marion County during the same time. Mellinger was the Director of the Marion County Utilities Department and Niblock served as Marion County’s Director of Parks and Recreation before rising to the position of County Administrator in 2009. (Niblock left Marion County to become County Administrator in Alachua County in November 2014, and was dismissed in August of 2017.)
City council will meet again on Monday, March 19th at 5:30 PM in council chambers at 51 Bald Eagle Drive.
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