Marco City Council disagrees on how to fill city manager's position

Devan Patel
Marco Island City Hall

The process for hiring the next Marco Island city manager is still in flux after City Council could not come to a consensus on how it would like to proceed.

In preparation for Monday’s meeting, Chairman Jared Grifoni and Councilor Howard Reed each presented white papers for how they envisioned filling the position - council voted to terminate Dr. Lee Niblock with cause on March 19.

More:Fired Marco Island City Manager Lee Niblock faces second battery accusation

Jared Grifoni

Despite both making tweaks to the hiring process, the council’s deliberations ended with two failed motions and increasing frustrations from the public and members on the dais.

“I’m hearing the majority of you trying to drag us through this mess again,” Councilor Joe Batte said. “The people that speak to me are looking for at least a one-year cooling off period. They want to rest, and they don’t want to be embarrassed as we have embarrassed them recently.”

Three months after he was hired, Niblock was placed on administrative leave (Feb. 20), pending an investigation into battery allegations. Shortly thereafter, council voted to terminate his employment after City Attorney Alan Gabriel determined Niblock had taken four actions that could be deemed cause.

Lee Niblock, former Marco Island city manager

Reed’s proposal centered around how the council rushed into choosing a city manager after receiving a set of candidates from The Mercer Group, the search firm that was previously tasked with identifying candidates.

“I would suggest that process did not allow sufficient time for us to study, review, investigate, prepare and come to that vote having done the due diligence that I think we ought to be doing hiring a person at that level,” Reed said.

Reed suggested utilizing human resources staff to create recruiting materials in addition to performing preliminary background checks and not imposing a deadline on submissions. Reed said the job would close once a candidate had been selected.

Grifoni’s proposal suggested contacting previous candidates to determine if they were interested in the job. Two former finalists, David Fraser and William Malinen, have sent emails to Grifoni expressing interest in the position.

City of Marco Island Government Center sign.

To assist in properly vetting candidates, Grifoni said that local businesses could help with performing background checks and was receptive to using human resources staff at Collier County or the Collier County Public Schools.

While Grifoni said the city is entitled to have The Mercer Group perform another search for free because Niblock’s employment did not last two years, he instructed Gabriel to look into recouping the $15,750 paid to the search firm because of its failures during the search.

A motion to contact previous candidates failed by a 4-3 vote.

Although there were elements of both proposals that the council liked, both received mixed reviews.

Vice-chair Charlette Roman expressed concern with the proposals and the council becoming too hands-on with the process. Roman said the priority of the council should be to stabilize the government, which it has not with the revolving door in the city manager’s office.

Charlette Roman

“The new turnover rate for Marco city managers is a little over a year for the past 10 years,” Roman said.

In what he termed a “halfway solution,” Councilor Victor Rios made a motion to name a former finalist David Fraser as city manager for a period of 6-12 months as the city develops a succession plan.

Rios said it would provide adequate time to groom current interim City Manager Guillermo Polanco, should he be interested in filling the position permanently.

The motion failed after not receiving a second and brought the council back to the drawing board.

“While this was a good evening for discussion, I just think we’re at a point where we need to discuss it and probably need several discussions about it,” Councilor Bob Brown said.

An appeal of Niblock's termination was scheduled for Wednesday, but Niblock's legal representation withdrew the request for public hearing Tuesday afternoon.