PORT RICHEY — Last November, City Manager Ellen Posivach accomplished the implausible: a 25-hour workday.
Logging billable time from a conference in San Antonio, Texas, Posivach recorded 15 hours of travel and work on top of 10 hours of Veterans Day pay. Over the next two days, when she was scheduled to board a tour barge cruising the San Antonio River, she logged 30 more hours of work time — all more than 1,100 miles away from City Hall.
The hours, as unusual as they may seem, have become pivotal to Posivach's work schedule. Since taking over as the city's top official last year, Posivach has run her own calendar and clock, deciding when, where and for how long she'd like to devote her taxpayer-funded time.
She credits that flexibility with allowing her to work "the hours I think are best for the city," saying the city has run better than it has in years.
"The purpose of what we're doing was not for me to sit in a chair," Posivach said. "The point was to show projects and results."
But some council members say Posivach's contract is too lenient, and her time too sparse and scattered, to ensure she works what her contract says is six jobs in one: managing the city, managing growth and directing utilities, finance, purchasing and public works.
"You can't be a manager in absentia — it just doesn't work," council member Terry Rowe said. "I'm from the old school. I like the hands-on manager. You like to be there, and you like to see someone running the thing."
• • •
Posivach, her contract states, must work 2,080 hours a year, or 40 hours a week. But 16 months of time sheets provided to the Times show her work is far from 9-to-5.
The regular schedule for City Hall employees includes 10-hour work days, Mondays through Thursdays. But invoices show Posivach worked short days about half of the time. She worked a less-than-half day, under five hours, every week. And she took seven weeks off of work — all without filing for a day of vacation.
To explain that, city officials pointed to Posivach's compensatory time, an overage pool she adds into when her work hours edge over the limit. Time sheets show she regularly deposits and draws from that pool as she sees fit.
In October 2009, two weeks after returning from a weeklong, city-sponsored trip to Montreal, Posivach logged an 11-hour week followed by a seven-hour week. That month, to meet the requirement, Posivach drew 56 hours of comp time.
A third of Posivach's days were spent in overwork, recording about 100 days where she worked longer than 10 hours. Many of those fell on Tuesdays, when the council often leads city meetings late into the night. Other long days were logged during trips she was scheduled to attend in San Antonio, Orlando, Tallahassee and Washington, D.C.
What Posivach's time sheets don't show: vacation. Though her contract grants her more than nine weeks a year in vacation, sick and personal leave, Posivach has yet to use any of it. By September, she had accrued about $33,000 in unpaid time, which she's due after her last day on the job.
The time sheets also don't show where the work was done. Posivach doesn't keep a public calendar, and city officials said there are no public records to clarify when Posivach was working at home or out of town.
Posivach writes and signs her own time sheets before submitting them to Mayor Richard Rober, one of her most vocal supporters on the council, for verification.
But the process is not perfect. On nine different invoices, Posivach was listed as accruing comp time on the imaginary day of Feb. 30. Posivach and Rober signed anyway.
"I sign the time sheets, but since I'm not there every day, I have to rely on the fact that she's giving me my 40 hours a week," Rober said Wednesday. "I haven't felt compelled at this point to feel like I'm being misled in any way."
"It comes down to two things: Do you want to micromanage it or do you want to trust it," he added. "We don't want to get ripped off, but Ellen doesn't strike me as that type."
• • •
Posivach has been with the city for two years, starting as an assistant to former City Manager Richard Reade.
She resigned in 2008 as city manager of Tarpon Springs under pressure from commissioners like Chris Alahouzos, who had balked at her comp time requests and criticized her "disconnect with the staff, non-involvement with the community (and) disconnect with the residents."
Rober, council members Steven O'Neill and Bill Colombo and former council member Perry Bean approved Posivach's contract to become Port Richey's city manager June 2009, granting her a salary-and-benefits package of $132,000 and full discretion to work hours "as she deems most beneficial."
Her contract also states she can travel, eat, order a hotel room and charge "professional development" expenses to the city without first seeking council approval. It allows her to work for other clients in the public and private sectors without disclosing who's paying. It even includes a nondisparagement clause, a staple of divorce and settlement agreements, banning the city from saying or writing "negative, critical or disparaging" comments about her or the city itself.
Rober defended Posivach's contract, saying she is a "high-order delegator" whose management style has been unfairly slammed.
"Things are certainly happening and they continue to happen," Rober said. "There are some folks who feel her accomplishments … are still not enough."
At most meetings, Posivach points to an ongoing list of projects she said marks her accomplishments: a water/sewer rate study and increase, a restructuring of the budget, progress on dredge permitting, upgrades to the utility system and new city vehicles.
"You can look at the hours as much as you want," she said. "But in all reality, the results are what the people on council at that time felt the citizens deserved."
But Rowe and Nancy Britton, who joined the council after Posivach's contract was approved, said her contract and off-time needs another look.
"It's not working," Britton said. "It's time to find someone who's willing to be there on a regular basis."
Posivach's contract states the council has the right to discontinue it once it expires Nov. 15. To suspend Posivach, the council would need three out of five votes, city code states. To remove her, it would need four.
"She has the work schedule we all wish we had," Rowe said with a laugh. "She has claimed she'll work from her kitchen table at 2 o'clock in the morning. Who's there to refute that?"
Contact Drew Harwell at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6244.