Candidates make case to become interim Marco Island city manager

Devan Patel
Marco Eagle
City hall campus at Bald Eagle Drive and San Marco Road.

The Marco Island City Council has one remaining interview for its interim city manager position but the two candidates appearing before it last week declared they were ready to embrace the challenges that await should either gain the position.

Maria Menendez, former assistant city manager of Coral Gables and assistant village manager of Pinecrest, and James Hock, former city manager of Joliet, Ill. and Park Ridge, Ill., interviewed with individual city council members Wednesday and the council as a body in a special meeting Thursday.

David Harden, former city manager of Winter Park and Del Ray Beach, will take the same approach this week before the council deliberates on whether to hire any of the candidates.

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All three candidates are in the running to relieve acting City Manager Guillermo Polanco from the position. Polanco stepped in after former City Manager Lee Niblock was placed on leave and ultimately terminated after battery allegations surfaced in late January.

Polanco has extensive experience serving as the interim city manager, having previously assumed the role when Roger Hernstadt resigned in 2017, but has indicated that he is not interested in the position in a full-time capacity.

The Marco Island City Council attempted to hire a search firm to place its next city manager but failed to come up with requisite votes after it released a request for proposals earlier this year.

With members of council divided, Vice-Chair Charlette Roman suggested the city look into using the services of the Florida City and County Management Association, which has a free senior advisor program for smaller cities that helps place either a full-time or interim manager.

Ken Parker, one of the nine senior advisors, has helped Marco Island through the process thus far. Parker previously had advised the Council that the applicant pool was limited due to the city seeking an interim manager in such a short period of time.

After laying out their qualifications, both candidates told the Council that its problems were not as unique as some suggested.

Menendez said although there were problems, Marco Island was an appealing place and there were basic policies and procedures that could be implemented to get it back on course.

Hock told the Council that his interest in the position lay in the belief that rewards for public service were intrinsic and that he still had the passion to serve the community.

In describing their approach to local government, both candidates mentioned the need for customer service and responding to residents and businesses.

Although Menendez has never been a full-time city manager, she did say that she stepped in a number of occasions and detailed how her experience as an engineer helps with project planning and understanding the issues in a variety of departments.

Hock was asked about his lack of Florida experience with his career having been based mostly in Illinois and Michigan.

Part of the question was based on his ability to respond to a natural disaster like a hurricane.

Hock responded that with any serious type of incident, he believed in analyzing the response of the city so that when it happens again, the city is better equipped to handle the issues and is better prepared. With respect to his experience in Florida, Hock said that city manager skills were not specific to Florida and it’s the job of the manager to take policy concerns to council with creative solutions.

Councilor Joe Batte was absent from Thursday’s meeting as he has been attending to a family matter. Although he was unable to interview the candidates in private due to the need to attend to medical issues, Councilor Bob Brown was able to attend Thursday’s special meeting and ask questions.

If the council does want to hire any of the candidates, it will require the approval of five of the seven council members.

The special City Council meeting to interview David Harden takes place this Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in the Community Room at 51 Bald Eagle Drive.

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