Monday, January 24, 2022

Interim Manager Contract Being Negotiated

At the December 10 meeting the Marco Island City Council moved forward to deal with one of the priority items which became a campaign promise of those who were elected to office during the November council elections.

Earlier attempts this fall to hire an interim manager failed due to the inability of council to reach a super-majority of five votes. Outgoing councilors Joe Batte and Bob Brown felt that doing that so close to the election would be inappropriate, as the newly elected council should choose the person they would have to work with. Councilor Howard Reed would also object to the hiring of an interim manager, as opposed to spending the necessary time to hire a permanent manager.

The newly constituted council would vote 6-1 to hire David Harden, a 47-year veteran of municipal government in Florida, as an interim manager, provided they could come together on the terms of a contract for his services. Harden has no interest in assuming the position as a permanent manager.

Harden began his governmental service in 1971, working for the Planning Department in Orange County, Florida. After spending three years in that position he moved on to be the City Planner for Winter Park, Florida for another three years, before being elevated to the position of City Manager of Winter Park in 1977. He would retain that position until 1989 when he left to take on the role of City Manager for Delray Beach, Florida, a position he maintained for 22 years.

After retiring in 2013 from Delray Beach he would serve for one year as the Interim City Manager for Port Orange, Florida and then for two years as the Assistant Director/Director of the Utilities and Public Works Department of Palm Springs, Florida.

Harden was one of three candidates brought forward by the Ken Parker, a Senior Advisor for the Florida Association of City and County Managers’ Association. Councilor Charlette Roman brought forward the concept of using that organization who help facilitate the search for an interim manager who would assume a temporary role in managing the city’s affairs, as well as assisting council in its responsibility to hire a permanent replacement for former City Manager Roger Hernstadt who resigned in early February 2017.

The manager’s position has been vacant for almost two years now, as council has struggled with the process of filling that position and the embarrassment of having to dismiss their choice, who had only been on the job less than 90 days in March of this year. Dr. Lee Niblock was arrested on a first-degree misdemeanor charge of battery, which was brought against him for unwanted sexual advances against the principal of the Marco Island Academy. Council would vote to discharge him for “cause,” in March of this year. In the meantime, Niblock is awaiting trial in late January of 2019 in Collier County.

The one vote objecting to hiring Harden came from Councilor Howard Reed. Reed has been a staunch supporter of moving forward to find a permanent manager for the city. “To me this is about principle,” said Reed. “We need to be moving forward as quickly as possible to hire a person whom I hope can be here for the next ten years, not ten months on a temporary basis. I’m not sure this process will move us any further along to the goal that was so strongly vocalized by those that made it their battle cry just two months ago during the election. I think we owe our citizens better than this,” said Reed in an interview.

Presently, Council Chairman Erik Brechnitz is negotiating a contract with Harden for his services, which will be brought forward at the next city council meeting on January 7. Presently, Gil Polanco is serving in that position, in addition to his responsibilities as the city’s finance director.

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