PORT RICHEY — After months of bitter parley among city leaders, the conflict has come to this: the City Council pleading with its top employee to show up for work four days a week.
City Manager Ellen Posivach, who often works from home, asserts that her contract with the city stipulates nothing about where she should work. But critics — including council members — have said that leaves her unaccountable and often hard to reach.
That disagreement could soon boil into a costly standoff for the city. If the council's most recent attempt at compromise between Posivach and the members and residents calling for her termination fails, the city could begin searching for a new city manager — and be on the hook for up to $95,000 in Posivach's severance package payout.
Mayor Richard Rober, who estimated Posivach works from City Hall about two or three days a week, told the council Tuesday night he had asked Posivach to consider easing back from some terms in her hiring agreement, disclosing the clients she works for privately and showing up to work more from her office.
"Work is work," Rober said he told her. "And we would like four days' worth of work."
Posivach, whose salary and benefits total $135,000 a year, told Rober she was "amenable" to lowering her paid vacation and off-time hours to the city standard.
On the other points, not so much. Posivach, a former city manager of Tarpon Springs, remained adamant about keeping secret the clients she advises for Ellen S. Posivach Management Solutions, the company she runs from her home in Tarpon Springs. She said she had signed non-disclosure agreements with each one.
But council members have long worried that could bring about a conflict of interest, allowing her decisionmaking to steer toward clients of her choosing.
"My whole position has been the whole trust issue. I don't know that those clients aren't being paid for under our dime," council member Nancy Britton said. "I'm not comfortable with that. I can't get past that."
Yet the most problematic detail for the council remained Posivach's choice of workspace. Her time sheets and reimbursement forms show she often works short days, routinely draws from a lucrative pool of compensatory time, and has attended conferences in Montreal, Texas and Washington, D.C., on the city's dwindling dime.
Posivach has defended her trips and at-home work as a requirement for productivity amid the rigors of city management. But even her council supporters, who praised her work while others called for her termination, seem to have taken a harder line.
"The idea that you just say, 'I'm going to do all my work from home today,' " said member Bill Colombo, "is not an acceptable idea."
Vice Mayor Steven O'Neill, who alongside Rober and Colombo approved Posivach's contract two years ago, agreed.
"I think we're going to need to demand a presence here," O'Neill said, "and that appears to be non-negotiable."
Posivach, who left council chambers during Tuesday's discussion, said Wednesday she would not "feel comfortable" commenting on the council's proposed compromises.
"It's basically kind of unethical to have a whole running commentary on something that is a work in progress," she said. "It would be detrimental to the city and to me."
Asked how often she works from City Hall, she said it "depends on the month" and would not give an average.
"There's nothing in the contract that requires me to be in City Hall any days a week," she said. "As far as I'm concerned, that's not relevant."
The city will weigh Posivach's answers to the compromise at the next council meeting. If she agrees, Rober said, the council could move toward modifying her contract. If she does not, the council could likely vote for a "mutual separation."
Britton said that sounded like the best option.
"You're getting paid a certain amount of money. You should be here. And while you're here, I want to know you're doing that work for us," Britton said. "We've wasted the taxpayers' money enough."
Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 869-6244 or [email protected]