Marco Island city manager to residents: 'I'm available and here to help'

Devan Patel
Marco Eagle
City Manager David Harden sits in his office at Marco Island City Hall on Friday, Jan. 11.

David Harden has spent a lifetime in city government so his decision to help the city of Marco Island navigate its latest tough stretch of water wasn’t as difficult a choice as some might think.

Harden has over 40 years of experience in public service, including 23 years as the city of manager of Delray Beach before he turned to interim jobs over the past several years. It’s safe to say his passion lies in civic involvement.

“I really enjoy public service, giving back and helping people,” Harden said.

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Harden has already passed his first test of commitment to the city, one that came before he was even hired.

Following the termination Dr. Lee Niblock in March after three months on the job, the City Council elected to use the Florida City and County Management Association’s Senior Advisor Program to help find a replacement.

The Senior Advisor Program offers free services to smaller cities including to help find and select an interim or regular city manager.

The process resulted in three finalists being chosen: Harden, former Joliet, (Illinois) City Manager James Hock and former Coral Gables Assistant City Manager Maria Menendez.

Harden was the first choice among the majority of the City Council, but it was unable to hire him on Oct. 4 due to its inability to gain the five votes required by the city charter to hire a manager.

Despite the setback, Harden was asked if he’d still be interested in the position after new members were elected the following month.

Shortly thereafter, two vacancies opened up in South Palm Beach and Edgewater, where he’d have an opportunity to work again with many people he’d done so when he worked in Port Orange, but he resisted due to giving his word.

“When they came back and asked me if I was interested and said so, I didn’t think it was appropriate until the process had run its course,” Harden said.

The Marco Island job may very well be the last job on his resume that also includes 12 years as the Winter Park city manager, Harden said, but the city’s issues aren’t so unique as some citizens and councilors think.

Besides being another coastal city that has been impacted by hurricanes, Marco Island has developed a reputation for having a revolving door in its city manager’s office, which was a characteristic that befell Delray Beach before Harden arrived in 1990.

In the decade preceding him, Delray Beach had as many city managers as years.

Harden will be another name added to Marco Island’s tally as his selection was intended for an interim period until the city could hire a permanent manager, but he’s had some involvement in processes that resulted in replacements in other stops and that will also be the case on Marco Island.

In the meantime, Harden was settling into the job on his first week, including participating in the Marco Island Fire-Rescue Department’s ceremony of pushing out its new truck on Friday.

Harden has been meeting with different department heads and touring facilities to get a lay of the land and get up to speed with how he can help find solutions to some of the city’s problems.

One area Harden believes he can make an immediate impact is in helping meetings run more efficiently. Within the last few months, Marco Island has experienced its fair share of marathon meetings, including this past Monday where council was forced to continue its meeting until Thursday, Jan. 17.

Prior to his selection as city manager, members of the City Council did speak individually with him during interviews on some issues. It’s Harden’s intent to meet individually with each councilor again to identify 3-5 of the most pressing ones before carving out a plan on how to tackle them.

Harden was also aware of the employee climate survey completed more than a year ago that has yet to be acted on but has not read it as of yet.

With customer service issues at the height of some residents’ issues, Harden wanted Marco Island residents to know he was ready to lead by example to listen and respond to their concerns.

“I’ve available and here to help,” Harden said.

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