New Marco Council voices support for former chairperson
After its outgoing chairperson handed over the gavel, the Marco Island City Council has reversed course on its opinion of his leadership.
Six months ago, the City Council approved a vote of no-confidence in then-Chairperson Jared Grifoni by a 4-3 margin as a result of his handling of the battery investigation into former city manager Lee Niblock. With newly elected councilor Erik Brechnitz taking over the leadership position, the Council approved a motion to express confidence in Grifoni by a 5-2 vote.
“This, as I said at the time, was not only frivolous — which is what the chair ruled and he was overruled — it was gratuitous, totally unnecessary, petty and distinctly unhelpful,” Councilor Larry Honig said. “It has poisoned the council.”
Grifoni and Honig’s actions came under fire as details of the battery investigation into the former city manager came forward. Both councilors were accused of potential tampering with the investigation that ultimately led to the termination of Niblock as well as a misdemeanor battery charge being filed by the State Attorney’s Office.
While City Attorney Alan Gabriel had deemed Grifoni’s actions to be “correct and appropriate,” then-Councilors Bob Brown and Joe Batte called for an investigation into members of the City Council for their involvement, leading to the vote of no-confidence.
The vote of no-confidence was more symbolic in nature as it had no effect on Grifoni continuing to wield the gavel until his term as chair expired.
With unsubstantiated accusations flying across the room, it soured the relationship between councilors and stalled votes to hire a permanent and interim city manager.
Honig said his motion in support of Grifoni was directed at healing some of the wounds opened up this year.
Councilors Howard Reed and Charlette Roman, who voted in favor of no-confidence in May, did not support Honig’s motion at Monday’s meeting.
The newest members on Council, Brechnitz and Sam Young, as well as Victor Rios, Honig and Grifoni approved the vote supporting Grifoni.
“I just want to thank the Council for righting a wrong, and I appreciate those who expressed so tonight,” Grifoni said.
Although Brown and Batte are no longer on the Council, there remained remnants of hostility between some of the councilors during the meeting.
One comment by Reed specifically drew the ire of the Council after he accused unnamed members of wanting to hire a manager in order to fire members of city staff.
“It’s no secret that one of the first things that this Council or certain members of this Council want the new city manager to do is to make major changes to the staff,” Reed said. “From the St. Valentine’s Day massacre references of the last city manager that was non-interim, there has clearly been backchannel discussions as to how the city staff should look from certain members.”
After Grifoni called Reed’s comments presumptuous, Honig echoed those sentiments.
“We saw some of that in Councilor (Howard) Reed’s comments about backroom deals, backroom this and backroom calls,” Honig said. “None of that is occurring. It’s all innuendo.”
Brechnitz, who vowed to restore civility to the Council during his campaign, expressed disappointment in the tenor of Tuesday’s meeting and the need for the City Council to move forward past all of the pettiness.
“I really don’t like the way the tone of this meeting has progressed tonight,” Brechnitz said. “I hoped for so much better. I’m somebody that likes to look through the windshield and not through the rear-view mirror. All this stuff, while painful, is water over the dam.”