PORT RICHEY — Nearly two months of wrangling by Port Richey officials over whether to hire an interim city manager remained unresolved at a City Council meeting Tuesday as concerns over money persist.
The council has been debating whether to hire former New Port Richey City Manager Tom O'Neill since early March, following the firing of then-City Manager Ellen Posivach.
While the council again pushed off hiring O'Neill, opting for more negotiations on what to pay him, the stances of two council members who have been cold to hiring O'Neill appeared to be thawing. Debate shifted from whether to hire him at all to talk of a month-to-month vs. a yearlong contract.
Mayor Richard Rober said there is money to hire O'Neill, but details are murky. Two weeks ago, City Finance Director Pam Zeiglar announced a possible patchwork of funding from the city's Community Redevelopment Agency and utilities.
And there have been cryptic references to "settlements" the city recently reached that could affect available funds to hire O'Neill. Two weeks ago, Zeiglar began to discuss postponing payments of those settlements, but was shut down by Mayor Richard Rober, who said the confidential settlements could not be discussed.
When council member Nancy Britton questioned Zeiglar on Tuesday about Rober's announcement that funding has been secured to hire O'Neill, Rober again advised the finance director not to discuss the details of the settlements.
The conversation then took another shift as the two staunchest critics of hiring O'Neill, council members Bill Colombo and Terry Rowe, moved away from outright opposition to setting their sights on a salary proposal O'Neill provided the city in recent weeks.
O'Neill wants $92,500 a year, $200 a month for medical benefits, a $50 monthly cell phone allowance and either use of a city vehicle or $250 a month to use his own. O'Neill is not seeking a severance package of any kind upon a contract termination, only a payout of unused vacation time.
Colombo showed no interest in a yearlong contract, and said frills such as medical benefits, vacation time, and a cell phone allowance should not be part of a deal.
"It doesn't have a great feel to it," Colombo said.
Instead, Colombo proposed offering O'Neill a bare-bones month-to-month salary, which both Rowe and Rober supported. Council member Nancy Britton expressed support for any tact in hiring O'Neill.
"I believe he will stabilize our city, something that hasn't happened in a while," she said.
The support for Colombo's hopes for a month-to-month contract with O'Neill then led the council to another round of negotiations with the former New Port Richey city manager.
Council members agreed that Rober and Dave Brown, acting city manager and police chief, will meet again with O'Neill in the coming days in an attempt to hash out a monthly salary figure.
If that negotiation proves fruitful, Rober vowed to immediately call a special meeting to present the council with the final negotiated terms and take it to a vote.