Thursday, January 27, 2022

More Questions Linger at City Hall

More questions are lingering as the investigation of the facts that lead to the firing of former Marco Island City Manager Lee Niblock, and subsequent revelations of certain councilors’ actions after the incident, have continued to expand in scope.

Early in February, following the alleged battery by Niblock against Melissa Scott, Scott told Sgt. Mark Haueter of the Marco Island Police Department (MIPD) the details of what had happened.

Haueter reported that conversation to Police Chief Al Schettino, who subsequently met with Scott and Haueter on February 6. Both Haueter and Schettino advised Scott that to move forward she needed to make a sworn statement. They opened an initial inquiry, but moved no further until Scott lodged an official complaint.

Over the next two days, Schettino created a written memo detailing the conversations held on February 6. Schettino attempted to print those notes on his office printer on February 9. However, due to a maintenance upgrade being performed on his work station, the printing was transferred to the hall printer station in the MIPD.

Schettino instructed Sgt. Haueter to post himself at the printer and retrieve that sensitive paperwork immediately. Haueter accomplished that task, but 30 minutes later the records clerk was found in possession of that same report at the printer. The report had somehow printed a second time, and the clerk advised Haueter she had just discovered it prior to seeing him. She noted that she had only read approximately three lines of the document before realizing it was of a confidential nature.

Later that same day, Councilor Larry Honig texted both Niblock and City Attorney Alan Gabriel writing, “I accidentally came across a report that the city manager had made advances towards the principal Melissa Scott. The city manager just resigned.”

At this time, it is unclear whether the source of the transfer of the information to Councilor Honig on February 9 was made by the records clerk directly or whether it was by a third party. City Attorney Alan Gabriel now denies any knowledge of the text message that Honig referenced in his February 9th text to Gabriel.

Later on February 9th, in a separate text message to the city attorney, Honig requested to speak with Gabriel regarding a conversation he had held with a “police officer.”

Repeated attempts by Schettino to recover those messages from the City Attorney’s Office have been unsuccessful.

Initially, Honig became aware of the alleged improper advances made by Niblock against Scott when Jane Watt, Chairman of Marco Island Academy, contacted him after a February 2nd meeting with Scott wherein Scott had advised her of Niblock’s actions. Honig suggested that Watt contact the City Council Chairman Jared Grifoni, which she did.

These facts, revealed through the Collier County Sheriff’s Office investigation, directly conflict with statements made by both Chairman Grifoni and Councilor Honig, who denied having any knowledge of the incident prior to February 16.

Honig has made public his displeasure with Police Chief Al Schettino. Honig and Schettino had a very heated exchange at a March city council meeting, which resulted in an immediate negative response from those in attendance and on social media. Many community members voiced their opposition to the attack on Chief Schettino by Councilor Honig.

Once again, facts have called into question who knew what and when, leaving many in the Marco Island community suspect of the statements coming from both councilors.

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