Thursday, October 28, 2021

Councilors’ Involvement Revealed in Niblock Investigation 

The recent explosive news concerning the allegations contained in the battery charge against Marco Island’s former City Manager, Dr. Lee Niblock has raised a larger issue of what some sitting city councilors knew, and did to keep the incident quiet before it became public.

Witness statements contained in the Collier County Sheriff’s Office investigative report indicate that on February 2nd, Melissa Scott, principal of Marco Island Academy, confided to Jane Watt, the school’s founder and chairperson, the details surrounding an alarming and disturbing incident involving Niblock.

According to the narrative report, Watt states that she received permission from Scott to reach out to Councilor Larry Honig, “a trusted person on the city council.” Honig in his interview with investigators states that he was contacted on February 2 by Jane Watt. Watt relayed to Councilor Honig the details of Scott’s encounter with Niblock. Honig suggested that Watt reach out to Chairman Jared Grifoni, which she did on February 5.

A third city councilor, Victor Rios reached out to Watt on February 5, and told her he had a conversation with Niblock who stated “he did not care for or like” Melissa Scott, allegedly an attempt to disparage Scott’s reputation through a third party.

Neither Chairman Grifoni nor Councilor Honig advised any law enforcement agency of the alleged crime, after becoming aware of the incident.

Watt told investigators that Chairman Grifoni promised on February 5 that he would speak to Niblock. In the meantime, Melissa Scott reported the incident verbally to Sergeant Mark Haueter and Marco Island Police Chief Al Schettino.  As a result of that conversation, Chief Schettino advised the City Attorney Alan Gabriel and all city council members that he was opening an investigation regarding a “city employee,” without specifically naming Niblock.

At the Marco Island City Council Meeting on February 20, wherein Niblock voluntarily placed himself on a paid leave of absence, all seven councilors disavowed knowledge of the incident until receiving the February 16 email from Chief Schettino. That email advised them of the charge of battery being made against Niblock.

In fact, Council Chair Grifoni in a TV interview made with Karl Fortier of FOX 4 News on February 19, stated he “and no councilors had any knowledge of the incident or the persons involved” until he read the February 16 email.

That statement conflicts with facts contained in the investigation. Grifoni appears to have been fully engaged in what some may refer to as an attempt to make the issues “go away,” as early as February 5th.

The investigative report by the Collier County Sheriff’s Office indicates that Council Chairman Grifoni may have attempted to broker “a resolution of terms,” wherein Niblock would apologize for any misunderstanding, but admit to no guilt.  Scott would also have been required to offer an apology.  The proposed agreement stipulated that Niblock would stay away from Scott and deal with the Marco Island Academy through a designated representative.  As a result of that understanding he would remain in position as City Manager.

Council Chairman Grifoni advised Jane Watt that if Melissa Scott did not agree to the terms, that “it would be more difficult to move forward with the legislative priority for the MIA,” according to the investigators’ interviews with Jane Watt.

All attempts to have her sign such a document were rejected by Ms. Scott.

Throughout the month, negotiations and strategy sessions were held behind the scenes to attempt to reach a resolution to save Niblock’s job.  However, the steadfast resolution of Scott to reject any outcome less than Niblock’s dismissal were rejected.

According to the investigator’s report, detailed discussion were held between Chairman Grifoni, the city’s attorney and Mr. Niblock throughout early to mid-February, prior to the February 20 council meeting, where the council would accept Mr. Niblock’s offer to take a paid leave.

This also calls into question who was directing the city’s law firm to draw up documents which would have shielded Mr. Niblock and allowed him to stay on without answering for his alleged crime, of which he has now officially been charged.

Since then a second complaint alleging battery was lodged against Niblock by a woman from Gainesville, Florida from an incident late last year, which mirrors the allegations here on Marco Island.

Attempts by Collier County investigators to interview Niblock were rejected by his attorney.

Now the big questions on Marco Island is why did some councilors misrepresent their involvement and their knowledge of the events which have led up to the arrest of Niblock.

Check back to for updates on this story and other breaking news.

10 responses to “Councilors’ Involvement Revealed in Niblock Investigation ”

  1. Preston Stiner says:

    It’s always the cover-up or at least the attempted cover-up that gets politicians in trouble. From the article it appears that both Honig and Grifoni have some explaining to do. Did Councilman Grifoni violate his integrity when he stated publicly that he “and no councilors had any knowledge of the incident or the persons involved”? It appears to be the case and let’s face it, integrity is a key leadership principle. I give cudos to Ms Scott for standing up for her rights and not compromising her own integrity. Why were councilmen trying to shield Niblock? To save face for their poor hiring decision?

    Perhaps concerned citizens should investigate the process to recall certain council members that is included in our city charter. “Section 5.06 – Recall.
    The qualified electors of the City shall have the power to recall and to remove any elected official as prescribed by Section 100.361(9) of the Florida Statutes, or as subsequently amended. ”

    Continual turnover in the City Manager position is costly and negatively impacts the efficient operation of our city government. It would be revealing to quantify the lost time city employees and directors have had just discussing this mess. I think we Marco residents deserve a lot better from our elected city officials than what we’re receiving.

    • R adams says:

      You have it spot on!

    • Rich adams says:

      I accept Jane Wyatt’s claim that Grifoni was making a veiled threat of coercion. He is in the middle of this attempted coverup as maybe the city attorney.

      Perhaps concerned citizens should investigate the process to recall certain council members or change charter to a mayor-council form of government.

  2. Van purdy says:

    I would say there are at least two more indivduals that need to go the way of the city manager.

  3. Hector C. Fernandez says:

    I would not be surprised if someone were to file an inquiry into this matter with the Florida Commission on Ethics and the State Attorney’s office.

    I hope that the few remaining sensible councilmen left on the dais will make a motion to table any “City Manager” “Search Firms” initiatives until we can get our house in order. Seems like we are always rushing into the next mistake.

  4. Gainesville Guy says:

    We hope that justice will be served in Alachua county as well. It is becoming obvious that in Marco Island, intimidation was probably used by Niblock’s associates to try to silence his victims. This is, sadly, also likely here.
    Let us not forget those whose jobs were threatened to accomplish his agenda, and those who were fired or set aside for him to grant unsavory political favors.
    He apparently was making blatant attempts to circumnavigate the Sunshine law, and we can only hope that investigations in our neck of the woods don’t overlook his texting habits. It would be wise to secure his phone to see if there were any improper communications.
    As a friend of an Alachua county employee, I am disturbed that I even have to suggest these things.
    Our taxpayers and county employees deserve much better treatment.

  5. Marco Owner says:

    I smell a Rat on Council Mr. Chair.

  6. Vicki Decker says:

    Sounds like Ms. Scott is the only one that knows what to do when a crime is committed.

    Jane Watt doesn’t suggest going to the police, she calls Larry Honig to protect funding for her school (Hey Coastal Breeze, why is our City taxes funding a public charter school?).

    Larry Honig doesn’t suggest Ms. Scott go to the police, he suggest her go to Jarrod Grifoni. That way he’s not accountable for anything, and Niblock can possibly keep his job (at least he’s consistent).

    Jarrod Grifoni doesn’t suggest going to the police, he believes he’s the smartest person in the room (at least he’s consistent), and has her talk to the City’s attorney, who’s only job is to protect the City, not Ms. Scott.

    And then Mr. Grifoni somehow forgot he had talked to anybody regarding Ms. Scott two weeks later.

    What’s interesting here is that the Honig-Grifoni Council brain trust came up with a plan for Ms. Scott to apologize? For Niblock’s strange hiring/dating practices?

    What is Ms. Scott apologizing for?

    Are these the people running our city? AND YOU WANT THEM IN CHARGE TO HIRE ANOTHER CITY MANAGER? Remember the councilors who picked Niblock for City Manager..

    Good luck

    • Gayle Thawley says:

      As a Founder, National Advisory Board Member and Director of Grants for the Marco Island Academy, I take great exception to your “Why is our City taxes funding a public Charter school?” Unllike many jurisdictions up North, school taxes are paid to CCPS. They in turn pay only the per pupil allotment to the Academy per Florida State Law. (The per pupil allotment is the funding for each student in CCPS.) The money follows each Collier County student to whichever school he/she attends. In the case of a Charter school there is an additional Administrative Fee of 2-5% reduction (pending on the age and rating of the school) in the total allotment to cover any cost by the sponsoring District. So Charter schools actually have less to spend on operating costs.

      In short, for eight years literally thousands, not only locally but nationally, all the way from Governor Bush, Michelle Rhee, and Governor Scott down to children from TBE at lemonade stands have proudly donated and participated in fundraisers to finance MIA’s operating costs including transportation, Free Lunches, 16 athletic teams, Jean- Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment, etc. and capital facilities funding expenses for our island’s high school. Even the land for the school was financed by local supporters. I am setting the record straight because I personally have spent thousands of hours writing over 300 grants/Letters of Interests for the school over the past nine years which have garnered approximately $500,000 for the school.

      So to answer your question as to why the Coastal Breeze has not reported on the City’s taxes funding the Academy? Because the writers know the City’s taxes have NOT funded the Charter school. In addition, because the Coastal Breeze has closely followed the founding of the school for 10 years. In so doing, the newspaper is very respectful of the incredible accomplishments by Jane Watt, MIA’s students and staff, and MIA’s vast Army of Volunteers.

      The topic at hand however should in no way be MIA. Yet what began as a private matter between two people has grown so exponentially the tentacles now go from publicly destroying numerous reputations to calling for a court of public opinion over something that is truly none of our business to spreading falsehoods about our charter school whose students give 22,500 hours of service to our island. In hindsight it is no wonder our News Day have seemingly come to mirror Washington complete with calls for impeachment? Really?

      One cannot help but ask, “Why? If Niblock is gone, what is to be the end game? Who is leading the charge? Why?” Think about it . . . .I am.

  7. Arlon J Sandbulte says:

    We have two council men that should resign! Maybe the city attorney should also quit since it looks like he was also part of the problem. What a mess they have created! I read all the reports and there is a lot of dishonesty, in my opinion, and I repeat Resign!
    I have been coming to Marco for 30 years and a resident for 20? years. I think it was great when Marco became a city with a police force (we were one of the lucky ones to get robbed of $45k jewelry before Marco became a City), but the turmoil with the council and a city manager is constant. Who would want to take the job of city manager?
    I really feel bad for all problems these four (Niblock included) have caused for Ms Scott!!

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