Marco Island City Manager Lee Niblock put on paid leave after battery allegation
Marco Island City Manager Lee Niblock has been put on leave with pay pending the outcome of a Collier County Sheriff's Office investigation into an allegation that he committed battery. Lisa Conley/Naples Daily News
Marco Island City Manager Lee Niblock has been put on leave with pay pending the outcome of a Collier County Sheriff's Office investigation into an allegation that he committed battery.
The Marco Island City Council met Tuesday and voted 6-1 to suspend Niblock, who began his job as the city manager in December.
Marco Police Chief Al Schettino emailed the City Council and city attorney Friday night informing them of the battery allegation, which the department received Feb. 6.
According to Florida law, a person commits battery when he or she "actually and intentionally touches or strikes another person against the will of the other."
At the beginning of Tuesday's meeting, Niblock denied the allegation but asked the councilors for a leave of absence until the investigation is closed.
“I very much deny what is being said; however, I believe that for the greater good for this city, it’s my duty and ethical responsibility to take a leave of absence,” he said.
Councilman Bob Brown, however, moved for Niblock’s immediate termination based on information he said he has regarding the case.
“Over the years we’ve had many incidences that could bring a cloud over our city,” he said, “yet nothing can compare to the cloud that now descends on our island paradise. We do not need this ongoing cloud over our city.”
Councilman Larry Honig seconded the motion.
“This is going to make it impossible for you to manage this city,” he told Niblock. "You won’t have credibility with women on your staff, you won't have credibility with professional women on the island, you won't have credibility with many professional men on the island, including me.
“You’re in a position of trust; you're in a position of power and responsibility and representation," Honig said. "This is the saddest night for me, for sure, but I think the damage is irreparable.”
Chairman Jared Grifoni, Vice Chairwoman Charlette Roman and councilmen Howard Reed, Victor Rios and Joe Batte all cited due process and said the city should not take permanent action until the Sheriff’s Office closes its investigation.
“We’re not the judge, we’re not the jury, and we’re certainly not the executioner,” Grifoni said. “I am extremely uncomfortable sitting up here and altering an individual’s livelihood based on an allegation.”
The council began its search for a new city manager in February 2017 after former City Manager Roger Hernstadt resigned on Feb. 6, 2017.
Hernstadt said he felt it was no longer in the best interests of the city for him to be the city manager. He had been the city manager since Jan. 31, 2014.
In the first search for a replacement, council members had two candidates to choose from until one dropped out. Councilors spent more than three hours in a special July meeting debating hiring the remaining candidate, but they ultimately went back to the drawing board. Niblock was not part of the first search.
The Mercer Group, the firm the council chose to conduct the search for a city manager, terminated its contract with the city after the first search and divisive July meeting.
The firm ultimately agreed to return for the second search, and the City Council voted 5-2 in a special meeting in November to hire Niblock for the job.
Niblock, of Maquoketa, Iowa, was the county manager of Alachua County from 2014 until his dismissal in September because of differing views between him and the commission.
He earned a bachelor's degree in geography/resource planning from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, a master's degree in recreation and public administration from the University of Iowa, and a doctorate in public administration from Nova Southeastern University.
More Marco news: