Amidst dysfunction, Marco Council punts on hiring firm to find next city manager

Devan Patel
Marco Eagle
Councilor Joe Batte speaks out against hiring an executive search firm to find the next Marco Island city manager.

The Marco Island City Council has put the brakes on filling its vacant city manager position.

Four weeks after approving the release of a request for proposals for an executive search firm, the council declined to hire any of the three firms that responded.

“The marketplace is affirming the message from this dais multiple times,” Councilor Howard Reed said. “The executive search firms are saying collectively ‘Please, Marco Island, step back. Take your time. Get your house in order.’”

More:Search for the next Marco Island city manager continues

More:Marco Island hiring search firm to find next city manager

The council as a whole has come under scrutiny since it fired former City Manager Lee Niblock less than four months into his tenure.

Niblock came under investigation after a complaint was made by Marco Island Academy Melissa Scott about inappropriate physical and verbal overtures made by Niblock during an incident on Jan. 31.

In investigating the complaint, it was determined Niblock took four actions that were cause for termination and the council voted to fire him on March 19.

Since that time, Chairperson Jared Grifoni and Councilor Larry Honig have been accused of attempting to cover up Niblock’s actions and have been called on to resign by some members of the community as well as members of the council like Joe Batte.

Honig and Grifoni have denied any wrongdoing and have framed the salacious accusations as a witch-hunt.

When the City Council sent out an RFP to conduct its last city manager search, it received seven replies.

Additionally, three firms the city worked with in the past, The Mercer Group, Colin Baenziger & Associates and Slavin Management Consultants, declined to submit proposals to the city despite being contacted about their interest.

The three firms that responded to this RFP were GOV HR USA, Springsted Waters and The LMC Group.

Batte said he didn't believe the current City Council should be involved in picking the next city manager.

"This is a time to let things cool down," Batte said. "You're going to have three people that are recently elected to bring to you the most current feelings of the people, our bosses."

Honig, who voted in favor of hiring a firm, said the city could not continue to treat acting city manager Guillermo Polanco as the full-time manager and reiterated that Polanco said himself that he did not want the job.

Expecting a 4-3 vote either way, Honig also questioned whether the city would be able to approve any candidate because it would require one person to switch his or her vote to get a supermajority.

Honig correctly predicted that Batte, Brown and Reed would vote against hiring a firm and that the swing vote would effectively be Vice-chair Charlette Roman.

While Reed confirmed he was concerned about the process, he said it didn’t necessarily mean he would vote against a candidate and he would approve someone that is a good fit for Marco Island.

Roman, who voted against hiring a firm, called for the council to “get its house in order,” but questioned how it was going to do so.

More:Marco City Council passes vote of no confidence in Grifoni

More:Emails detail former candidates' interest in Marco city manager vacancy

More:Search firm warns Marco Council to 'govern themselves accordingly'