TARPON SPRINGS — Ellen Posivach, a driver of reform and a source of controversy as city manager of Tarpon Springs and later Port Richey, died Saturday (March 8, 2014).
Former Tarpon Springs Mayor Beverley Billiris, who became close friends with Posivach during and after their tenures serving the city, said she died of lung cancer. Posivach was 62.
A transplant from Virginia, Posivach served as city manager for Tarpon Springs from 1999 until 2008, years she called the "best time" of her career even as relations soured with some city commissioners unhappy with her work schedule and a request for time off to interview for a job in Arizona.
Posivach eventually resigned after a split commission voted 3-2 to search for her replacement. Billiris spoke in her defense at the time, and had words of praise this week for the work she did for Tarpon.
"The woman knew her job, and she did a lot for the community and the employees of the city," Billiris said. "Near the end of her career with Tarpon, she had a couple of issues I always felt we could have worked out. But her goals for the city were accomplished."
Among those goals: achieving water independence for Tarpon Springs, which purchased the city's drinking water from other communities and was subject to their price increases and supply limits.
City Manager Mark Lecouris, who was both police chief and director of administrative services under Posivach and won the top job after she left, said the water system is one of Posivach's legacies in Tarpon. After many years of planning, the city is close to breaking ground on its new water treatment plant, which will process water pulled from the city's own wells.
Lecouris said Posivach also brought fair wages to city employees.
"She got us out of the stone age of what we were paying our people, when we were losing good people right and left," Lecouris said.
Posivach continued to live in Tarpon after her resignation and eventually took over the city manager position in Port Richey for nearly two years. She inherited a city in a state of financial emergency and threatened by a citizen dissolution movement.
While grappling with those issues, the city council began grumbling about Posivach's schedule, which included significant time working from home, as well as her spending practices on conferences that required fees and travel time. In February 2011, the council fired her over a purchase without the board's approval which she argued was an emergency to repair a water system struck by lightning.
Several months later the council voted not to pay her severance outlined in her contract, which led to a lawsuit against the city. Posivach also sued state Sen. John Legg for defamation, claiming he harmed her reputation when he wrote the city a letter blasting its initial consideration of paying her severance.
Posivach was scheduled for depositions March 17 on both complaints, said Mike Pierro, an attorney for Port Richey. It will be up to the handlers of her estate whether to continue the lawsuits, Pierro said.
Billiris said Posivach had no survivors. Both of her parents are dead. Dobies Funeral Home is handling the arrangements; a memorial service is tentatively planned for sometime Memorial Day weekend in May.
Times staff writer Diane Steinle contributed to this report.