With naysayers gone, new Marco Island City Council may hire new interim manager next month

Devan Patel
Marco Eagle
Victor Rios, Sam Young and Erik Brechnitz are sworn in Tuesday after winning election to the Marco Island City Council

The Marco Island City Council may be ready to hire an interim city manager by next month after two new members took their seats Tuesday, replacing two of the councilors that blocked previous hiring decisions.

New Councilors Erik Brechnitz, who was voted in as chairperson, and Sam Young will attempt to interview all of the finalists from the last search that remain interested in serving in an interim capacity before the city’s Dec. 10 meeting.

Using the Florida City and County Management Association's senior advisor program to guide the search process, the city whittled down a list of candidates to three: 

  • 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

At the city’s Oct. 4 meeting, it made three individual motions to hire each of the finalists but in every scenario, the council voted 4-2 every time, which did not meet the five vote minimum set out in the city charter. Councilor Howard Reed and then-Councilor Joe Batte were the dissenting votes each time. While former Councilor Bob Brown was absent for that meeting, he objected at every turn in the process of selecting and hiring an interim manager. 

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Finance Director Guillermo Polanco has served as the acting city manager since council voted to terminate Lee Niblock in March after a little more than three months on the job.

After allegations of battery surfaced, Niblock was placed on administrative leave in February and an investigation found that several actions he had taken over his tenure were grounds for termination,

Niblock was also charged with misdemeanor batter by the State Attorney's Office and has pleaded not guilty. He is currently awaiting trial.  

Councilor Jared Grifoni said he placed the city manager discussion on the agenda because it was a key issue during the election campaign in which Young, Brechnitz and Victor Rios won seats on the Council and the public had spoken about its desire for the city to hire a manager.

Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, Councilor Charlette Roman said she had reached out to Ken Parker, a senior advisor with the Florida City and County Management Association, to find out if Harden was still interested in the position. The Council’s first motion to hire an interim manager in October was for Harden.

Although Harden walked out of the city’s Oct. 4 meeting, Parker did indicate that Harden was still interested in the position. 

“I wouldn’t want these interviews to be conducted with one hand tied behind our back and I think the new councilors would benefit from interviewing the other two as well if they’re still interested,” Grifoni said.

Councilor Howard Reed once again voiced his objections to hiring an interim manager and offered an alternative to finding a permanent manager.

With the city of Naples city manager search completed, Reed said he contacted its search firm, Colin Baenziger & Associates, about looking at its list of candidates for the permanent Marco Island position.

Reed said Baenzinger was receptive of the City Council reaching out to any of the candidates.

Although he’d prefer a permanent city manager, Young said he’d compromise in hiring an interim manager now and offered to go to Del Ray Beach to speak to Harden.

Brechnitz said he followed the city manager search proceedings and zeroed in on Harden as an ideal candidate as well.

“I’m anxious to proceed with that and because we are looking at an interim city manager, is it mutually exclusive that we simultaneously look for a permanent city manager,” Brechnitz said. “That process needs to go on and go on aggressively.”

Brechnitz said Reed’s suggestion of looking at the Naples candidates would be a good place to start as the city looks to find a candidate for the long-term.

Although Reed made his objections known, he still voted in favor of the motion for Young and Brechnitz to have an opportunity to interview all of the finalists still interested in the position.

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