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Meet the new boss? City manager hopefuls ‘meet and greet’ at council function

Lance Shearer
Correspondent

At least they had more than one candidate to talk to, and pick from.

The four finalists for the Marco Island City Manager position came to City Council chambers Wednesday evening for a “meet and greet,” giving local residents, office holders and city staffers the chance to talk with them.

Candidate Lee Niblock, left, speaks with utilities manager Jeff Poteet. The City of Marco Island hosted a "Meet the City Manager Candidates" event Wednesday evening in the city council chambers.

The office holders, specifically Marco Island city councilors, were the most important to the candidates, as the council is scheduled to vote Thursday evening and select one of the four to be Marco Island’s new city manager.

The last time the council went through such a vote, one of two finalists dropped out, leaving councilors to choose from a pool of just one candidate, and ultimately failing to agree on that individual, in a process infused with bitterness and recriminations.

More:Meet Marco's maybe managers: Four finalists to be interviewed Thursday

Daniel Alfonso, currently the city manager of Miami, where he has served since 2014, is looking to make a move in anticipation of an expected regime change. He rose through the ranks of municipal government on the east coast, with a previous post as assistant city manager/chief financial officer.

Candidate Daniel Alfonso speaks with Linda Shockley. The City of Marco Island hosted a "Meet the City Manager Candidates" event Wednesday evening in the city council chambers.

As he had done when previously contacted by the Eagle, candidate William Malinen, who served most recently as city manager of Branson, Missouri, opted not to speak to the press, but mingled as much as possible with residents.

Candidate Lee Niblock was county manager of Alachua County, Fla., from November, 2014, until last month, when the board voted to dismiss him. He stressed the 10 years he spent on Key Biscayne, saying he understands the needs of a coastal Florida community.

David Fraser, who with his wife arrived a little late for the meeting, was city manager of Boulder, Nev., from 2013 to 2017, and also manager cities in Kansas, Michigan and Ohio. Talking with local residents, he turned the tables, asking questions as much as answering them.

Candidate David Fraser, left, speaks with Public Works Director Tim Pinter and City Councilor Bob Brown. The City of Marco Island hosted a "Meet the City Manager Candidates" event Wednesday evening in the city council chambers.

The evening was essentially “cocktail party format” – although with soft drinks and water,  cookies and wraps provided, not alcohol – with no program other than a roomful of 60 or so people standing around and chatting in ever-migrating groups. All the City Council was present, except Joe Batte, who had voted against holding such a gathering.

Several city department heads, who were looking at their new boss, while not yet knowing which one it would be, showed up, including acting city manager Gil Polanco, who is scheduled to return to his regular job as finance director after his second stint helming city government. He expressed no desire – sort of – to have the top job himself, saying “the process should run its course,” and saying, as a finance guy, he likes the concrete, stable quality of numbers.

Candidate William Malinen, right, speaks with Ken Honecker and Jeff Poteet. The City of Marco Island hosted a "Meet the City Manager Candidates" event Wednesday evening in the City Council chambers.

Utilities Director Jeff Poteet, Public Works Director Tim Pinter, Police Chief Al Schettino and Fire-Rescue Chief Mike Murphy also put in appearances, along with Collier County Supervisor of Elections Jennifer Edwards.

Search firm representative W.D. Higginbotham, Jr. of The Mercer Group, Inc., was on hand, rehired for a second shot at finding a manager for Marco after initially opting out after the bad taste left by the failed first attempt in July. Along with the candidates, he stood out by wearing a suit, while most of the locals opted for island casual, although City Council Chairman Larry Honig wore coat and tie and Councilor Howard Reed sported a very islandy sport coat and calypso shirt combo.

Candidate David Fraser, left, speaks with Carole Roberts and Bruce Graev. The City of Marco Island hosted a "Meet the City Manager Candidates" event Wednesday evening in the city council chambers.

Some lobbying, handicapping and perhaps knee-capping had been going on, city government observers said, with negative information about various candidates being spread on the web and social media. One knowledgeable maven, who declined to go on record, said that in his opinion, “none of the candidates are qualified,” while others indicated satisfaction with the field that council would be considering.

“All four are qualified people,” said John Arceri. “You have to remember, city manager is probably the highest turnover of any profession there is. Council should focus only on qualifications, their interviews, and public feedback – not if someone got fired. They all do.”

A councilor's-eye view from the dais as participants mingle. The City of Marco Island hosted a "Meet the City Manager Candidates" event Wednesday evening in the city council chambers.

In Thursday’s special-called council meeting, each manager hopeful isscheduled to give a 10-minute presentation, followed by questions from council, with the other candidates not in the room. After public comment, the council would vote by paper ballot, with the city clerk tallying the votes. The process would continue until one candidate received five votes, with any receiving no votes eliminated from further consideration.