PORT RICHEY — Likening her critics to "sharks swimming in a circle," City Manager Ellen Posivach moved to end her brief and contentious employment Tuesday night.
Careful not to call it a "resignation," lest she forfeit months of severance pay, Posivach asked the City Council for what Mayor Richard Rober would later call a "mutual separation." Posivach, whose salary and benefits net her $135,000 a year, will likely earn a severance payout of about $90,000.
Council members have lambasted Posivach in recent months for working too often at home, hiding the clients of her private side business and traveling to remote conferences on the city's dime. Two council motions to terminate Posivach, who became city manager in June 2009, failed in November.
Posivach defended her time in office by saying she had originally wanted a brief but productive stint to help the city "over the hump."
"I had never come here and intended to spend a lengthy period of time," she said. "I am not a traditional city manager. … What I do is come in and fix things and leave.
Attempts to help the city, she said, were derailed by "extremely inappropriate" questions of how she worked. Her accomplishments — including helping obtain a permit for dredging, she said, and purchasing a new fire truck — were often overlooked.
"That needs to be the issue," she said. "Not where I am and what I'm doing."
Much of the council's criticism fell on Posivach's contract, the open-ended pact that lets her set her own hours. Member Terry Rowe called it an "abomination."
"I commend you. There are not too many people who can negotiate a contract of this magnitude, with this many perks," Rowe said. "Whoever you had write this, they deserved every penny you gave them."
Rowe also railed against the clause allowing her "reasonable compensatory time," saying her 219 accrued hours — earning her $14,307 — was absurd. Posivach responded by asking City Attorney Michael Brannigan the legal definition of "reasonable."
Even Vice Mayor Steven O'Neill, who characterized himself as one of Posivach's chief defenders, took issue with the contract he had signed off on in 2009.
"Shame on myself," he said. "Shame on myself, because I was a part of this contract."
Mayor Richard Rober and member Bill Colombo also expressed regret over approving the contract. But Rober said he felt the city had gotten its money's worth for Posivach.
"In late 2008, we were on our backs, upside down, like turtles that can't right themselves up. We had broken stuff everywhere. We had discord among our residents," Rober said. "I would challenge anybody in this room who says we haven't made serious accomplishments."
Posivach will stay in office until the end of February, when the interim job falls to police Chief Dave Brown. She offered to help interview new candidates for the city, and Rober said he would like the city "to be able to call on her from time to time."
But ending the work relationship won't be cheap. Finance manager Pam Zeigler said Posivach has accrued 630 hours of unused vacation time, 219 hours of comp time and, as her contract allows, three months of paid compensation — a final payout totaling $89,229.
For comparison, former city manager Richard Reade, who brought Posivach on as an assistant, left the city with a severance package of $44,335, Zeigler said. Former city manager Jerry Calhoun resigned in 2007, forfeiting his payout.
"Everybody is looking at this like I'm this person in desperation, and that I need to hang onto this job," Posivach said. "That's not the case."
Posivach resigned as the city manager of Tarpon Springs in 2008 under pressure from city commissioners, who accused her of abusing compensatory time. One commissioner said she had "poor people skills (and a) disconnect with the staff."
Though her contract stated she would have to surrender her severance pay if she resigned, Tarpon Springs commissioners voted to treat the termination as a "firing without cause." She earned about $87,000 for pension pay, three months' severance and 813 hours of unused vacation time.
On Tuesday, as the 7:30 p.m. meeting neared its end just before midnight, Rober turned to look Posivach in the eyes and gave a goodbye reminiscent of a breakup.
"Ms. Posivach, I think you're an extremely bright woman. I think you're an extremely bright manager. I think you've brought to Port Richey things we haven't had in the past," he said. "In my opinion, we both need to move on."
Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 869-6244 or firstname.lastname@example.org.