PORT RICHEY — The City Council has little choice but to pay fired City Manager Ellen Posivach her full $90,000 in severance and benefits, the city's attorney said Friday.
City Council members fired Posivach on Tuesday after a controversy stemming from an auditor's finding that she purchased about $60,000 worth of equipment for the city's water system without properly consulting the council as laid out in city ordinances.
Council members had also been critical of Posivach in recent months, saying she was working too often from home, hiding the clients of her private side business and traveling to remote conferences on the city's dime. Posivach, who earned $130,000 in salary and benefits per year, would have been city manager for two years in June.
While Posivach's departure was not unexpected, council members have been critical of — and still have to approve how much of — a payout she will take with her.
City Attorney Michael Brannigan said Posivach's contract makes it clear that she is owed her full severance of three months' pay totaling $33,000, plus $57,000 in accrued compensatory, sick and vacation time.
Barring any proof of intentional misconduct or fraud, Posivach is owed her severance and benefits, according to her contract. Testimony from auditors during a public hearing on the matter Tuesday "made it clear" no malfeasance occurred, Brannigan said.
If the council refused to pay the full amount and Posivach sued, it would be a difficult case to win, and the defense costs would outweigh the benefits of withholding her severance, Brannigan said.
"I have not seen what would be a good argument against that," Brannigan said of a full payout. "My advice is to get this matter behind us."
Brannigan's recommendation is sure to carry weight with the council as it decides what to pay Posivach, but it is unclear when the council will vote. In a special meeting Tuesday, the council will discuss a possible interim city manager, but it remains to be seen whether Posivach's payout will be discussed.
City Council members appointed Port Richey Police Chief Dave Brown as interim city manager, but Mayor Richard Rober said he would recommend hiring an interim manager.
Brown said in an interview Thursday that his mission in the meantime will be to keep "moving the city forward." He said he has delegated duties to his lieutenant to handle some police operations while he is working on City Hall issues.
"It's not insurmountable," he said of wearing two hats.