New year, new manager: Niblock gets running start on first full year

Lisa Conley
Marco Eagle
Lee Niblock, former Marco Island city manager

“At times it seems like I started yesterday and at other times it seems like I’ve been here for three or four years,” Lee Niblock, Marco Island’s new city manager, told the Planning Board during its Jan. 5 meeting. In reality though, Niblock has been on the job for a month now, and has big plans for the many more that lie ahead of him.

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Niblock was born and raised in Maquoketa, Iowa. He attended the University of Wisconsin, Platteville where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Geography/Resource Planning. He also earned a Master of Arts in Recreation and Public Administration from the University of Iowa and a Doctorate in Public Administration from Nova Southeastern University.

Niblock first visited Marco Island nearly 30 years ago, and has returned periodically ever since.

“I first visited Marco Island in 1991 to attend the FRPA State Conference meeting,” he said. “Subsequent to that visit, my wife, daughter and I have enjoyed Marco Island on other leisure occasions.”

Niblock was the county manager of Alachua County, Fla., from November 2014 to September 2017. On Oct. 18, the Marco Island City Council selected Niblock as one of four finalists for the city manager position.

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At the time, Niblock said that should he become Marco Island’s next city manager, his top three priorities would be addressing parking issues, especially in District 1, systematically addressing periodic flooding and "embarking on an unwavering strategy and defined course of action to improve employee morale."

“I would quickly meet with every staff member in small groups or individually as needed and meet immediately and regularly with the seven elected policy makers in the city," he said.

Marco Island City Manager Lee Niblock, left, speaks with utilities manager Jeff Poteet in this file photo.

In early November the councilors voted 5-2 to hire Niblock. He officially started the job in December and is already making good on his promises. On Monday Niblock told the council that he's met with every department and is planning to meet with each individual employee, as well.

It's important that every employee have the opportunity to have a meaningful interaction and not feel intimidated to share their opinions with me," he said, referencing last year's city employee climate survey in which staff said they felt as though they could not voice their opinions due to fear of job loss or other negative repercussions. 

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Niblock also plans on creating two new government positions: a public communications manager and an engineer. Both positions will be created within the confines of the existing budget.

The public communications manager will, as the title suggests, be responsible for disseminating information to the public. He or she will also serve as a conduit between the public and the city's various departments, and work to improve the city's social media presence. 

The engineer would primarily be responsible for creating a stormwater management plan and addressing the city's failing roadways.

"I have exactly two engineers on staff and quite frankly, neither one of them has the time in their schedule to do the work that I think needs to be done on our stormwater issues," Niblock said. "(This position) would be a great adjunct to our existing excellent staff."

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In keeping with the goal of improving city operations, Niblock plans to help the various boards and committees form mission statements to give them further direction on their expectations and scopes of work. Additionally, he plans on updating the city's comprehensive plan and working with the council to create a strategic plan.

"We've got our 20 years of adolescence as an incorporated city under our belt," he said. "Now ... as we build that foundation for the next generation, I think it's important that we have a strategic plan ... so that you can pretty much put your color and flavor on what your vision is."

Department directors will then use both the updated comprehensive plan and the new strategic plan to create department-level business plans. All of those plans combined will ease the budgeting process and increase productivity, Niblock said.

Finally, Niblock plans on meeting more Marco Island residents in 2018. There will be a 'Bagels with the Boss – Meet City Manager Dr. Lee Niblock' event from 8 to 10 a.m., Jan. 26, in City Hall, 50 Bald Eagle Drive.