Marco police chief, residents: Two officials want to fire city employees
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.
Sparks flew at this week's Marco Island City Council meeting as residents grilled the council about a controversial email from suspended City Manager Lee Niblock.
Niblock wrote an email to Councilman Larry Honig hinting at a mass firing of city staff.
"The St. Valentine's Day massacre will be a little late this year. You will be pleased," the email reads.
Niblock, who is on leave with pay pending the outcome of a Collier County Sheriff's Office investigation into an allegation he committed battery, sent the email one day after the Valentine’s Day mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
Marco residents took issue with the city manager's phrase because of what happened in Parkland, and they took even bigger issue with the implication of the phrase.
Marco resident Paul Cantwell accused Honig of colluding with the city manager to fire the police and fire-rescue chiefs.
"It sounds like you two discussed something. Nobody writes a letter and says the St. Valentine's Day massacre without the other person knowing what that means," Cantwell said at Monday's council meeting. "I find it very, very strange."
Honig, who seconded a motion to fire Niblock on Feb. 20 after the battery allegation was made public, denied any such collusion, calling the accusation “BS.”
"For 2½ years I've lived with everybody saying I'm out to fire the chief," Honig said. "I've never made a motion. You won't find anything in writing, you won't find anything orally. All this is total BS."
Later in the meeting, however, Honig proposed an external review of the Police Department. Some residents and Police Chief Al Schettino took that as a sign that Honig does want to "undermine the agency," Schettino said.
"The timing of this is very suspect,” Schettino said. “The timing of this when we begin an inquiry into the city manager that you had a part in hiring and then all of a sudden you want to bring this forward against the agency? Shame on you, Councilman Honig. It’s a disgrace.”
Honig's proposal was spurred by last year's city employee climate survey, which found that 25 percent of Marco city employees think the city is moving in a positive direction.
The survey also revealed serious issues with the Police Department. Multiple people alleged Schettino often uses intimidation, undermines staff contracts and practices favoritism.
Schettino called the survey "flawed," contending Honig essentially rigged it to cast a negative light on the Police Department.
"You talked to past and present employees and made sure they responded to that climate survey in a certain way," he told Honig. "It's all false. You're a disgrace to this council and community."
Schettino received a standing ovation from the audience, but Chairman Jared Grifoni chastised the chief.
"I understand your passion, and I understand your frustration, but coming up and attacking Councilor Honig directly is inappropriate," Grifoni said to boos from the crowd. "I think there was a better way to handle it without getting that angry."
The council took no vote Monday on whether to move forward with an external review of the Police Department.
Instead, councilors left the issue in the hands of acting City Manager Gil Polanco, who said it seemed the majority of the council was against a review, so he would not pursue it.
Sawyer Smith, Niblock's attorney, said he was not aware of the email before Monday's meeting. Niblock could not be reached to comment.
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