Court hearing for ex-Marco Island city manager pushed to next week

Devan Patel
Marco Eagle

Nearly a year after being fired as the Marco Island city manager, Lee Niblock is close to signing off on a plea deal in the case that spurred his ouster.

Niblock's attorney, Sawyer Smith, appeared before Collier County Circuit Court Judge Michael Provost Wednesday morning to ask for a one week delay as an agreement between Niblock and the state attorney's Office appears imminent for one count of misdemeanor battery he faces.

Niblock turned himself into authorities April 26 after a warrant was issued for his arrest stemming from a battery complaint made by Marco Island Academy Principal Melissa Scott.

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Lee Niblock, former Marco Island city manager

Scott told authorities that Niblock had made several unwanted and inappropriate verbal and physical overtures, including forcible hugging and kissing, during a dinner meeting in late January. 

Scott also said in a sworn statement that Niblock offered to groom her to become the next city manager after he retired.

After the Marco Island Police Department became aware of the situation, it opened an investigation only for the Collier County Sheriff's Office to take over due to a potential conflict of interest.

Once it became public knowledge that Niblock was under investigation, City Council voted Feb. 20 to place him on paid administrative. 

With the city conducting its own review of Niblock's conduct, council elected to fire him a month later after determining he had taken several actions that could be cause for termination.

In a memorandum to the council, City Attorney Alan Gabriel stated those actions were:

  • Claiming to confirm allegations in an employee climate survey.
  • Interviewing a female job candidate at a restaurant and ordering wine.
  • Demanding that the battery investigation be sent to the highest level of the Sheriff's Office.
  • Sending an email that appeared to indicate a mass firing of city employees and referring to it as the St. Valentine's Day massacre.

While Niblock had initially requested a hearing to appeal his termination, his attorney withdrew the request April 3, the day before it was initially scheduled.

During the course of the Collier County Sheriff's Office investigation, a separate battery complaint also surfaced in Alachua County in March 2018.

The complaint, which was lodged after the Marco Island incident was reported, alleged that Niblock had also made unwanted and inappropriate overtures to an Alachua County job candidate while Niblock was the county manager.

Niblock's case had dragged along for nearly 10 months before a jury trial was scheduled last month.

During the Feb. 11 hearing, Niblock's attorney requested a delay in proceedings as both sides were discussing a plea deal.

Although the criminal proceedings are close to wrapping up, the incident has already scarred Niblock's professional career.

The International City and County Management Association's executive board voted Nov. 30 to publicly censure and bar Niblock from its membership.

As part of its rationale, the board cited three tenets of its code of ethics that Niblock had violated.

The three violations relate to demonstrating the highest standard of ethical conduct and integrity of a public official, affirming social responsibility as a public servant and leveraging his position for personal gain or benefit.

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