Marco Island Council names Lee Niblock as new city manager

City of Marco Island Government Center sign.

Nine months after Marco Island's city manager resigned and about three months after a failed initial search, the City Council approved hiring a new city manager Thursday night.

Councilors voted 5-2 in a special meeting to hire Lee A. Niblock for the job.

Councilors Joe Batte and Bob Brown cast the two dissenting votes.

Niblock, of Maquoketa, Iowa, was the county manager of Alachua County, Florida, from 2014 until his dismissal in September because of differing views between him and the commission.

He earned a bachelor's degree in geography/resource planning from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, a master's degree in recreation and public administration from the University of Iowa and a doctorate in public administration from Nova Southeastern University.

Lee Niblock, former Marco Island city manager

The four finalists for the Marco job — Daniel Alfonso, the city manager of Miami; David Fraser, former manager of Boulder City, Nevada; William Malinen, former city administrator of Branson, Missouri; and Niblock — had a busy day Thursday.

They spent hours interviewing with all seven councilors before attending the meeting in the evening.

The candidates were supposed to each give 10-minute-long presentations to make their final cases for their hiring, but they and the councilors agreed they had talked enough during the interview process.

Niblock joked during his presentation that his doctors would thank the council members for their "rigorous" grilling.

"My doctor suggested I lose 15 pounds," he said. "I thank you for the weight I lost today going through the gauntlet."

Thursday's meeting, which lasted about 45 minutes, closed out a months-long and at times contentious search for a city manager. Marco Island’s previous manager, Roger Hernstadt, resigned under pressure in February.

Lee Niblock, left, speaks with utilities manager Jeff Poteet. The City of Marco Island hosted a "Meet the City Manager Candidates" event Wednesday evening in the City council Chambers.

In the first search for a replacement, council members had two candidates to choose from until one dropped out. Councilors spent more than three hours in a special July meeting debating hiring the remaining candidate, but they ultimately went back to the drawing board.

The Mercer Group, the firm the council chose to conduct the search for a city manager, terminated its contract with the city after the rushed first search and divisive July meeting. The firm ultimately agreed to return for the second search.

During Thursday's meeting, the few Marco residents who attended and spoke during public comments praised the candidates' qualifications.

"What a difference a second search makes," said resident Erik Brechnitz.

He hoped whoever was chosen as manager would receive unanimous support from the council, but that wasn't the case.

"It's a tough-enough job in the first place," Brechnitz said. "But having one or two of your bosses opposed to you from the beginning is not a good way to start your job."

Another resident, Joseph Oliverio, asked the council before its vote to choose a manager who would work well with the current council and future councils, and do right by residents no matter who is behind the dais.

Niblock told the council that being the Marco Island manager would be a capstone for his career, not a steppingstone. He said he and his wife, Connie, are excited to move to the island and that his experience in working in other coastal communities will serve everyone well.

In a previous interview, Niblock said his top priorities as manager will be to address parking issues and flooding and create a strategy to improve employee morale.

He hopes to start as early as December. 

“I’m overwhelmed and humbled by the support to receive the necessary five votes,” Niblock said Thursday night. “The caliber of the other candidates humbles me more.

"This is a fine city, and my efforts will be commensurate with the community support.”