Marco may turn to senior advisor program to find next city manager

Devan Patel
Marco Eagle
Councilor Howard Reed, center, proposes that Marco Island utilize internal resources to aid in finding a city manager.

The city of Marco Island is still without a permanent city manager but for the first time in weeks, the City Council has unanimously expressed interest in hearing more about a proposal that may help fill the vacancy.

Although the council shot down a motion by Councilor Victor Rios to hire previous applicants or interested parties on an interim basis, the discussion fleshed out an idea from Councilor Charlette Roman about considering aid from the International City/County Manager Association and Florida City and County Management Association’s Senior Advisor Program.

The program, which is comprised of retired city and county managers, can provide the following services at no cost:

  • Outlining to elected officials the placement process based on ICMA guidelines.
  • Determining qualifications, compensation and position requirements.
  • Assisting local staff with position advertisements.
  • Reviewing and recommending semi-finalist candidates based on position standards established by the governing body.
  • Providing assistance to the jurisdiction during the interview phase of the placement process.

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The decision to continue the discussion to a future meeting represented another 180-degree by the council, which voted two weeks ago not to hire any of the search firms that responded to its request for proposals to find its next city manager.

During the discussion two weeks ago, the majority of the council was not ready to move forward with the search amidst self-admitted dysfunction after it fired former City Manager Lee Niblock.

Niblock was placed on administrative leave on Feb. 20 after battery allegations against him surfaced stemming from a Jan. 31 incident involving Marco Island Academy Principal Melissa Scott. After an internal investigation, the council voted to terminate him on March 19.

The State Attorney's Office reviewed the Collier County Sheriff's Office report and charged Niblock with misdemeanor battery.

While Niblock has pleaded not guilty, allegations of interference have been lobbed at Councilor Larry Honig, Chairperson Jared Grifoni and City Attorney Alan Gabriel for their involvement throughout the investigation.

All three have denied any wrongdoing but with the allegations swirling, it temporarily stopped any progress from being made on filling the manager's position.

Finance Director Guillermo Polanco has filled in as city manager but has indicated he does not want the job in a permanent capacity.

With Polanco's stance and the upcoming Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity vote on Aug. 28, it was enough for the council to reconsider its stance and continue the discussion about the senior advisor program to its next meeting.

"If we really want to put our house in order, I don't see how we do it without a city manager," Honig said.

Motions to launch investigation and replace city attorney fail

Alan Gabriel, center, will remain the Marco Island city attorney after a motion to replace him with another attorney from his firm failed.

While the City Council found common ground with its manager search, it found itself differing in opinion on how to "put its house in order."

At the request of Roman, Councilor Joe Batte shared two proposals for how the council could get the process started.

Without casting aspersions of guilt on anyone, Batte motioned for the city to initiate an independent investigation into the Niblock ordeal and replace Gabriel with another attorney from his firm Weiss Serota Helfman Cole & Bierman,

"I really think we need to authorize, whether it be the city manager or whomever, an internal review to get the facts straight whether there was any wrongdoing in terms of councilor or city attorney involvement in this Niblock mess," Batte said. "Again, the courts are going to decide his fate but it's up to us to take a look at this."

Batte suggested seeking guidance from the Florida League of Cities and Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

But outside of concurrence from Councilor Bob Brown, the rest of council was either opposed to an investigation or felt it wasn't the right time.

"I think the timing is not right for either replacing the city attorney or his firm or for conducting an investigation," Roman said. "There will be a time that we should consider a due diligence review and that time is not now. I'm concerned it might influence the outcome of the trial if there is a trial."

The motions failed by a 5-2 vote.

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