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Suspended Port Richey manager still plans to attend two conferences on taxpayers' dime

PORT RICHEY — On Tuesday, before angry City Council members voted to suspend her, outgoing City Manager Ellen Posivach handed in her keys to City Hall.

But a letter from Posivach's labor attorney, David Linesch, suggests her ties to the city are still strong — at least when it comes to the issue of paying her.

Posivach, whose contentious 20 months as manager were scarred by criticism of her city-sponsored travel and her hours out of office, registered in December to attend two "professional conferences" between now and mid March, Linesch wrote.

Suspended or not, Linesch said, Posivach still plans on attending — at taxpayers' expense.

"Most such conferences, once you register, it's hard to get your registration fee back," Linesch said Thursday.

Cathy Hillman, Posivach's executive administrative assistant, said Thursday she knew nothing about those trips. Linesch said he didn't know the details. And Mayor Richard Rober, who signs her time sheets, said Posivach had mentioned the trips to him "but didn't elaborate."

Messages left Wednesday and Thursday for Posivach were not returned.

At Tuesday's special meeting, called last week by council member Terry Rowe, the council voted unanimously to suspend Posivach a week after she asked for a smooth separation.

The impetus: a draft report by city auditor Judson Baggett that said officials, under Posivach's guidance, had spent tens of thousands of dollars without abiding by city law.

City Attorney Michael Brannigan, in a letter to Linesch after the vote, said the council had voiced "grave concerns" over Posivach's failures, hinting at "a more systemic problem with the purchasing activities of the city, through Ms. Posivach."

Neither Posivach nor Linesch was at the meeting; Linesch said that was because they learned of it too late. He said it was "odd" that the city had suspended Posivach without ensuring what he considered enough public notice.

"I'm not even sure if it was a lawful action they've taken," he said. "You can't do that. That's City Government 101."

Before the council's suspension vote, Linesch wrote Brannigan to remind the city of the clauses in Posivach's contract promising her conference and dues payments "for her continued professional participation, growth and advancement" and, in case of her firing, three months' compensation and all accrued benefits. Finance manager Pam Zeigler estimated that would cost the city $89,229.

In April, the Times reported on Posivach's frequent, taxpayer-funded travel to Washington, D.C., Tallahassee, Orlando, Marco Island and San Antonio, Texas – all within her first year in office.

While attending a five-day gathering in Montreal, at the downtown Palais des Congrès, she racked up thousands of dollars in food, workshop and overtime costs, just days after the council voted to raise taxes.

Rober and council member Bill Colombo said it was too early to estimate Posivach's potential severance package, given the city's hopes of negotiation. But Linesch, who helped write Posivach's contract, said he didn't see much room for compromise.

"This is a strong contract. It really is," Linesch said. "I think there are members of council that wish it could (change), but there's that problem with contract law that gets in the way of that."

Contact Drew Harwell at dharwell@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4170.

Suspended Port Richey manager still plans to attend two conferences on taxpayers' dime 02/03/11 [Last modified: Thursday, February 3, 2011 8:41pm]

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