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Port Richey Council votes to fire City Manager Ellen Posivach

PORT RICHEY — Three weeks after suspending City Manager Ellen Posivach over red flags raised in a city audit, the City Council voted Tuesday night to fire her.

But the council's contentious relationship with Posivach isn't over yet.

It remains unresolved how much the city owes Posivach in severance and other benefits. City officials are still reviewing her contract, but taxpayers could be on the hook for $57,000 to $90,000, according to Port Richey Mayor Richard Rober.

City finance director Pam Ziegler did not attend Tuesday's meeting, in which council members fired Posivach. She said she is working with City Attorney Michael Brannigan to determine what the city will pay.

Because Ziegler did not attend Tuesday's meeting, Rober cast the only dissenting vote on Posivach's termination. Rober said he wanted more information from Ziegler on what the city might have to pay before firing Posivach, but other council members were in no mood to wait.

"It was an unfortunate thing, but we felt we needed to do it," said council member Terry Rowe. "I felt the infractions were serious."

An auditor's report found Posivach violated city purchasing procedures in spending thousands of dollars without going through proper channels set out in ordinances.

After lightning disabled the city's water system last year, Posivach bought an emergency replacement system for about $35,000 without seeking the necessary council approval. And officials paid a contractor more than $25,000 to build a water-meter communications tower without obtaining quotes from other businesses that could have lowered the cost, one auditor wrote in a prior report.

Posivach, who earned $130,000 in salary and benefits per year, would have been city manager two years in June.

Rober said Wednesday it appears Posivach's prior pledges of her desire for an amicable split with the city are in jeopardy, with the mayor expecting her to seek full payment under her contract.

"I was hoping we would have a good mutual separation, but clearly it's not heading in that direction," Rober said.

Posivach did not return a call Wednesday for comment.

At her request, the council held a public hearing at Tuesday's meeting to address her suspension. She and her attorney, David Linesch, spent more than an hour questioning auditors on their findings.

Auditors found Posivach had not deliberately tried to defraud the city, nor were her actions done with malicious intent. Linesch told council members it is clear Posivach committed no "intentional misconduct."

Instead, Posivach argued she has been actively trying to clean up city operations, including purchasing, that have been going on outside the law for decades. And the two purchases in question in the auditor's reports were emergency situations, she said.

Posivach described systematic "messes that have occurred for decades" within City Hall which could not be fixed by a city manager in less than two years. She said there are "dozens and dozens and dozens of issues that must be addressed by everybody."

Some of those "messes" include operations still going on outside state and federal law, according to Posivach.

Even before the audit triggered Posivach's suspension, she and the city had agreed to part ways.

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 failed in November.

For the time being, Port Richey Police Chief Dave Brown will serve as interim city manager. He could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

Rober said the chief has pledged to do an internal investigation into procedures at City Hall. The mayor said he likely will call for the council to look into hiring an interim city manager while applications are being taken for a full-time opening. He said he may recommend former New Port Richey City Manager Tom O'Neill for a possible interim position.

Meanwhile, the specter of a court battle also looms.

There is a clause in Posivach's contract that would relieve the city of paying severance and benefits if "malfeasance, misfeasance or nonfeasance in office" is shown. But Posivach and her attorney argued she had no intent to harm or defraud the city.

Rober said during the meeting it is "abundantly clear there wasn't any intentional misconduct," but at least one council member sees a possible court fight ahead.

"We may see some litigation," Rowe said Wednesday. "I'm not sure what will happen from here on out."

Port Richey Council votes to fire City Manager Ellen Posivach 02/23/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 8:43pm]

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