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Suddenly: Howard’s out, Niblock’s in

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By Amy Ryffel-Kragh

It came as a shocker to many Marion County residents when county administrator Patrick Howard announced his intent to resign last week and the county swiftly moved to appoint Lee Niblock, the county’s community resources bureau chief, to the position.

During a public hearing Feb. 25, the Marion County Commissioner accepted Howard’s letter to retire effective Feb. 27 and then approved a three-year contract to hire Niblock for the job, according to a county press release.

In his resignation letter, the retired United States Marine Corps general said, “While this decision has been contemplated for some time, recent events have occurred in my life that compel me to take retirement now so that I can fully enjoy my family and what I value most in life.” Howard took the job as county administrator in August 2002.

The letter also addressed a request for the commission to grant him “an amount equivalent to six months salary compensation and payment for 30 percent of my accrued sick leave.” The commissioners approved it, which will cost $177,969.

Only newly-elected county commissioner Mike Amsden was opposed to the quick appointment of Niblock. He felt there should have been an interim county administrator put in place and a search done to allow other candidates to apply for the position. “At the end of the day, he may be the guy,” he said of the former bureau chief, but Amsden would have liked to have had other choices

Though it appeared like a quick change in leadership to the public, it wasn’t. Niblock said he was “more honored than surprised” at the appointment. He said he is looking forward to reshaping government and to doing a better job communicating and delivering services to Marion County residents. The first day of his contract was Feb. 28.

In his new role as county administrator, Niblock will receive an annual salary of $157,500, which is about $1,600 more than the $155,875 Howard was being paid.

During his tenure as bureau chief, Niblock oversaw several departments, including the animal center and library. Pat Gabriel, president of the S.R. 200 Coalition and chair of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee (PRAC), said Niblock will do a good job as the county administrator and commended the work he did in his former position. She said he did an “exemplary” job of budgeting and securing grants for departments such as parks and recreation and veteran services.

Niblock planned to appoint Gina Pebbles, administrative manager for Marion County Parks and Recreation, as the interim head in the department.

He said she would assume additional responsibilities and wear a “dual” hat.

The new county administrator has also tapped Julia Seig, director of the Marion County Public Library System, as the interim bureau chief. He is anticipating both women will be in the positions through the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

Phone calls to Marion County commission chairman, Jim Payton, were not returned before press time.

E-mail staff writer Amy Ryffel-Kragh at akragh@riverlandnews.com.