Records requests about Marco Island city manager's removal prompt discussion about texting

Devan Patel
Marco Eagle

The city has seen its costs skyrocket over the past few months as it attempts to move past the investigation into former city manager Lee Niblock.

Acting City Manager Guillermo Polanco said the city has been bombarded with records requests, but what's added to exorbitant costs is having to retrieve text messages, which prompted the city to revisit its information technology policies during Monday's staff meeting.

"It costs us about $2,000 per month just to buy the software and retrieve those texts every time there are public records requests like with this whole thing with the city manager," Polanco said.

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The Marco Island City Council terminated Niblock on March 19 with cause after he was found to have acted unethically during his 3-month tenure as city manager.

Prior to his termination, the council had placed Niblock on administrative leave after it was announced that there was an investigation into battery allegations made by Marco Island Academy Principal Melissa Scott.

After the Collier County Sheriff's Office concluded its investigation, the State Attorney's Office charged Niblock with misdemeanor battery. Niblock has pleaded not guilty to the charge and is currently awaiting trial.

From that time, the city has had to incur costs for producing records requests and performing legal review of materials.

For February and March, the Niblock investigation cost the city $41,086.10 according to an invoice from Weiss Serota Helfman Cole & Bierman. An additional $4,352.15 was billed to the city for the month of April.

While the increase in costs is also attributed to a number of other ongoing legal matters, such as work on the city's Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity application, settling the insurance claim for Fire Station 51 and appealing the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's decision on the Esplanade, the city's legal budget is projected to surpass its fiscal year 2018 amount of $300,000 by more than $200,000.

Polanco said while nothing has been formalized with regards to updating any of the policies, departments were encouraged to use email instead.

IT Director Jordan Turek said the city has about 30 different policies with regards to transmitting information including through email, text messages and social media.

The Marco Island Police Department was informed to discontinue use Monday afternoon by Capt. Dave Baer, though no further information was provided in his email.

"Effective immediately discontinue using text messages to 'discuss' work activities or city business on your city-issued or personal phone," Baer wrote Monday afternoon. "Sergeants/Unit Supervisors please cover this directive at your next roll call/shift change."

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