Marco Island City Council selects former Delray Beach manager for interim role

Devan Patel
Marco Eagle
Marco Island City Hall

Pending contract negotiations, the Marco Island City Council has selected former Delray Beach City Manager David Harden as its next interim manager.

While the hiring process stalled out prior to the November election, the newly constituted Council revisited finding an interim manager at its first meeting and ultimately voted to hire Harden by a 6-1 vote on Monday.

Harden was one of three finalists the City Council had honed in on after several months of trying to find a replacement for former City Manager Lee Niblock, who was fired in March after only three months on the job.

Niblock, who was placed on administrative leave prior to his termination, was under investigation after battery allegations surfaced in late January. A criminal investigation resulted in the State Attorney's Office charging him with one count of misdemeanor battery. Niblock pleaded not guilty and is currently awaiting trial.

Previously:Lack of supermajority vote dooms interim city manager search

And:Marco Island Council votes to fire City Manager Lee Niblock with cause

Also:Former Marco Island city manager turns himself in to face battery charge

In Niblock's absence, Finance Director Guillermo Polanco has served as city manager in an interim capacity but has received differing opinions on his job performance.

After the City Council failed to hire an executive search firm to find a permanent manager, it turned to the Florida City and County Management Association's Senior Advisor Program for aid in the search process.

Once a candidate pool of retired or managers in transition was developed, the City Council whittled down its list to three candidates.

Besides Harden, 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., were brought in for a tour of the city and interviews.

None of the three candidates, however, were hired in October after the City Council was unable to reach a supermajority vote as required by the City Charter. In the case of all three candidates, the Council voted 4-2 on individual motions to hire each of them but the motions failed without the required five favorable votes.

With former Councilors Bob Brown and Joe Batte replaced on the Council by Erik Brechnitz and Sam Young, the roadblocks to hiring a city manager vanished.

As part of his motion to hire Harden, Councilor Victor Rios suggested that the city move to have him in place by Jan. 7, the city's next council meeting.

"The city needs a city manager right now," Rios said.

Along with previously identified candidates, Brechnitz asked the City Council to also consider former Melbourne City Manager Mike McNees, who was once a candidate for the city of Naples' city manager vacancy.

Brechnitz said that McNees came to his attention after consulting with former Marco Island and Naples City Manager Bill Moss, who participated in the Naples search process.

"I just don't want to let this opportunity slip by with the door knocking," Brechnitz said. 

McNees was fired two weeks ago by the Melbourne City Council after a few of its members cited a lack of trust and communication over his application to the city of Naples.

In selecting Harden, the city will now engage in contract negotiations ahead of next month's meeting. Brechnitz and City Attorney Alan Gabriel will lead those negotiations.

Councilor Howard Reed cast the lone dissenting vote and cited multiple reasons for his decision.

Reed, who praised Polanco for his performance, questioned if the city council could hire Harden per its rules due to the motion previously failing. Reed said that under the rules if a motion fails, it must wait one year before being reconsidered.

Gabriel disagreed in saying that items can be reconsidered if there were substantial changes of circumstances from when the original motion was made. In this case, Gabriel said that a new city council meant that the item could be revisited.

Reed also expressed a desire for the city to look at hiring a permanent manager because he believed it would result in managerial decisions more beneficial to citizens. 

“I have been saying now for months was what we needed as a city manager that was going to be here for as far as the eye can see,” Reed said.

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