Letters clarify origination of Niblock resolution agreement terms

Devan Patel
Marco Eagle
Marco Island City Attorney Alan Gabriel

The legal counsel of Marco Island Academy Principal Melissa Scott has sent a letter to Marco Island City Council to set the record straight on a proposed resolution agreement that would have kept a formal complaint from coming forward against former City Manager Lee Niblock.

J. Christopher Lombardo, who represents Scott, refuted comments made by City Attorney Alan Gabriel during the May 7 City Council meeting about the origination of the agreement in a letter sent on May 11.

“The bottom line is we did not request a resolution agreement with the City,” Lombardo wrote. “We did not receive the resolution agreement through normal channels. And, upon finally receiving the resolution, we rejected it immediately because it placed an improper burden on my client when she was a victim.”

Misdemeanor battery charges were filed against Niblock stemming from an incident on Jan. 31 in which he was accused of making several inappropriate physical and verbal overtures toward Scott.

More:3 To Know: Former city manager has next court date, more

More:Council chairman under fire after more messages released in Niblock investigation

More:Marco city attorney, council chairman deny pressuring victim in Niblock case

Niblock would be placed on administrative leave at the Feb. 20 council meeting and was ultimately fired on March 19 after an investigation determined he had taken actions that were grounds for termination.

After an arrest warrant was issued by the State Attorney’s Office, the Collier County Sheriff’s Office incident report was released and detailed the level of involvement of members of the council and told of a proposed resolution agreement in lieu of a formal complaint.

While Chairperson Jared Grifoni and Councilor Larry Honig have come under fire from some parts of the community and fellow councilors for their level of involvement as the investigation was taking place, both have denied any wrongdoing.

Before Scott filed a formal complaint, terms of a potential resolution agreement emerged that called for both Scott and Niblock to apologize though Niblock would not admit any guilt.

When pressed who asked for the terms during the May 7 council meeting, Gabriel said it was not the city that pushed for them.

“We were approached by counsel for Melissa, (who) asked us to discuss with them what was happening,” Gabriel said during the May 7 meeting. “The Marco Island Academy as well participated in the conversation. We were asked by them to produce something that might be a resolution agreement that would resolve it between them so that Melissa would not have to come forward and make any public statements or what have you.”

Lombardo’s comments in his May 11 letter to Gabriel were corroborated by emails in February that were produced as a result of a public records request.

After Milton Collins, an attorney with the city’s legal firm Weiss Serota Helfman Cole & Bierman, emailed Marco Island Academy attorney Shawn Arnold the outline of terms on Feb. 12, Arnold responded at 8:41 a.m,. Feb. 14, and copied Lombardo into the email chain.

“Ms. Scott's decision to pursue a formal complaint will be hers,” Arnold wrote. “However, I ask that you inform your client that the School will very closely monitor for any evidence of reprisal against it based upon whatever Ms. Scott decides.  

“The school has had a great relationship with the City for many years. It would be a shame if the bad acts of a new employee would interfere with this relationship.”

Lombardo responded a little more than three hours later questioning why he wasn’t a part of the conversation regarding his client before declining the offer.

“Next, the offer absolutely is a non-starter,” Lombardo wrote. “Placing the onus on my client by requiring her to limit her job responsibilities and address her behavior does not demonstrate to us good faith on the part of the city.  

“My client reported a serious issue to the city, we expected the city to act accordingly.  Suffice it to say we will now consider our options on how to address this matter.”

In response to Lombardo’s May 11 letter, Gabriel clarified his comments and attempted to explain the circumstances around the outline in a letter on May 17.

Gabriel wrote Collins attempted to contact Lombardo and Arnold on Feb. 9 but received no response from Lombardo. With Lombardo indicating he was unavailable for a few days, conversations took place between the city’s legal counsel and Arnold on Feb. 12 in which it was asked about the prospect of a resolution agreement.

“Mr. Arnold asserted that it was unclear whether a resolution was even possible and that he had not spoken with Ms. Scott, but would nonetheless review any proposed terms to determine whether any interest existed,” Gabriel wrote. “Thus, a bullet point list of some potential terms was prepared and sent to Mr. Arnold he evening of February 12.”

Gabriel also wrote that Lombardo was correct about his assertion that he did not request an agreement but added more clarification
“It is also correct that you did not request a ‘Resolution Agreement,’ but the fact is no one requested an agreement,” Gabriel wrote. “As noted, the purpose of the contact was to gauge interest in a resolution, not to prepare an agreement.”

More:Former Marco Island city manager turns himself in to face battery charge

More:3 To Know: Former city manager Lee Niblock faces second battery allegation in Gainesville

More:Marco Island's new city manager faces investigation, accused of battery