Marco Island search for interim city manager down to three candidates

Devan Patel
Marco Eagle
Councilor Howard Reed talks about   issues with the interim city manager search process.

Then, there were three.

The search for an interim city manager is down to three candidates after the Marco Island City Council authorized deep background checks for the remaining applicants by a 5-2 vote Tuesday.

The candidates remaining include:

  • David Harden, former city manager of Winter Park and Del Ray Beach
  • James Hock, former city manager of Joliet, Ill. and Park Ridge, Ill.
  • Maria Menendez, former assistant city manager of Coral Gables and assistant village manager of Pinecrest

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At its previous meeting in August, City Council had authorized the first level of background checks for five candidates, including William Vance, former city manager of Pickerington, Ohio, and Donald Stilwell, former city manager of Fort Myers Beach and county manager of Lee County.

But before the first level of checks began, Vance withdrew from consideration for the position in an email to City Clerk Laura Litzan and the background check firm, Gleason & Associates. Vance cited "other job pursuits" in his email.

The exclusion of Stilwell was not a surprise as a discussion of his previous issues while employed with Lee County came up during citizen comment during the council's last meeting. Stilwell resigned as the Lee County manager in 2009 after sexually explicit emails were found on his computer.

The three remaining candidates are vying to add some stability to an office that has seen a revolving door and regular controversy.

The council's last regular city manager, Lee Niblock, lasted only three months before he was terminated for cause in March.

Niblock was placed on leave in February after allegations of battery surfaced. The investigation resulted in a misdemeanor battery charge against Niblock, who pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

In the interim period, Finance Director Guillermo Polanco has served as acting city manager but has indicated that he does not wish to continue in that capacity.

The council attempted to find a firm for its city manager search but failed to come up with the requisite number of votes to hire any of the companies responding to its request for proposals.

Council, however, was able to come to a majority agreement to work with the Florida City and County Management Association, which offers a free senior adviser program that helps smaller cities find interim and permanent city managers.

The current process has been aided by Ken Parker, one of the nine FCCMA senior advisors, though Parker did advise the council that the candidate pool would have been larger if it had sought a permanent city manager and performed more outreach.

Tuesday's meeting was not without drama as community member Bill McMullan accused the City Council of committing a Sunshine violation at its previous meeting by allowing two councilors that were absent, Joe Batte and Victor Rios, to submit votes for candidates they would like to see move along in the search process.

McMullan also stated the city committed a violation in not announcing who each councilor voted for during the August meeting, but that was quickly shot down by council and Litzan, who read out the results before they were tallied at that meeting. A video review of the previous meeting confirmed each councilor's votes were read aloud.

City Attorney Alan Gabriel stated there were no violations and the entire proceedings were conducted according to the law and City Council rules.

With the deeper background check requiring multiple days for each candidate, the council has also delayed inviting the three candidates for interviews until Sept. 25-27. 

The Council chose to delay the interviews until the background checks were completed and it had access to the results.

During the interview period, a special City Council meeting will be called so that the Council as a body can conduct an open interview with the candidates.

Councilors Joe Batte and Bob Brown cast the dissenting votes.

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