Former Marco Island City Manager Lee Niblock reaches plea in battery case
Marco Island City Manager Lee Niblock has been put on leave with pay pending the outcome of a Collier County Sheriff's Office investigation into an allegation that he committed battery. Lisa Conley/Naples Daily News
Former Marco Island City Manager Lee Niblock will be subject only to financial penalties as part of a plea deal entered Tuesday in his battery case.
Niblock, 65, pleaded no contest Tuesday afternoon as part of an impromptu hearing that was scheduled earlier in the day. Niblock was originally scheduled to appear in court Wednesday.
As part of the plea deal, Niblock was ordered to pay $622 split between court and prosecution costs and must avoid contact with the victim, Marco Island Academy Principal Melissa Scott.
Niblock turned himself in to authorities April 26 after a warrant was issued for his arrest stemming from a complaint Scott lodged in which she stated that Niblock had made several unwanted and inappropriate verbal and physical overtures toward her, including forcible hugging and kissing, during a dinner meeting in late January.
In a sworn statement provided to authorities, Scott also stated that Niblock offered to groom her to become the next city manager after he retired.
Marco Island police opened an investigation into the allegations against Niblock in February 2018 but turned it over to the Collier County Sheriff's Office due to a potential conflict of interest.
With the investigation becoming public knowledge, the City Council voted Feb. 20, 2018, to place him on paid administrative indefinitely.
That decision, however, was short-lived, as the city’s own investigation into Niblock’s conduct found that he had made several decisions that were grounds for termination. Niblock was fired the following month.
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.
That complaint was resolved through a deferred prosecution agreement Niblock entered into that calls for him to pay fines, undergo counseling and write a letter of apology.
Along with losing his position at the city of Marco Island, Niblock was also publicly censured and barred from membership in the International City and County Management Association.
The executive board of the ICMA made its decision public in November and cited multiple violations of its code of ethics, including 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.