TARPON SPRINGS — Before city commissioners delved into a three-hour debate that ended with a decision to replace City Manager Ellen Posivach, they slogged through an agenda filled with emotion and controversy.
During the eight-hour meeting, which started at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and lasted until 2:40 a.m. Wednesday, commissioners:
• Got an earful from members of the Tarpon Springs Area Historical Society over the city's handling of a proposed coffee shop at the Depot Museum.
• Heard an emotional plea from a man trying to rescue his father's rundown home from foreclosure.
• Weighed the pros and cons of keeping the city trolley, which has a contract that is about to expire.
Issues about the museum have been brewing for more than a month.
Historical society members said they were stunned to learn several weeks ago that the city staff had sent out requests for proposals to put a coffee shop on the property.
This angered society members because the site isn't supposed to be used for anything other than a museum. When the state Department of Transportation gave the land to the city in January, the deal contained a caveat that it could be used only as a museum. If the city decided to use it for a different purpose, ownership of the land would revert back to the state.
But just a month after acquiring the land, requests for bids were sent out — unbeknownst to the society's board or the city-paid museum curator.
This ruffled feathers at the historical society, which operates the museum in partnership with the city.
On Tuesday, city officials acknowledged a gaffe in seeking bids.
Dr. Kathleen Monahan, Tarpon Springs' cultural and civic services director, said things got muddled up when the requests were sent out while she was on vacation. She had intended to notify all the pertinent parties, she said.
Monahan apologized to the historical society and commissioners for the confusion, and added that since no bids had been received, the issue wouldn't be pursued by the city.
Carol Mountain, president of the historical society, said she was upset that she wasn't notified about the bids until after the fact. Worse, she said, is that no one from the city has explained how the error occurred in the first place.
"It seems highly odd that the second you get the deed to the land, you have (these bids) go out and nobody knows about it, and now nobody can explain how it went out," Mountain said Thursday.
Commissioners agreed to hold a work session to iron out differences between the city and the historical society.
In another tense discussion, the board heard from John Reheiser Jr., who hoped to persuade commissioners not to foreclose on his father's property at 1218 N. Florida Ave.
The property has racked up more than $145,000 in code violations over the past 5 1/2 years. But neighbors said the problems have been going on for 11 years. The overgrown lot is infested with rodents, snakes and termites, they said.
Tearful at times, Reheiser pleaded with the board to give him more time.
"I made a commitment to my dad about the property. I'd like to honor that," he said.
Reheiser said he didn't know how bad things had gotten until he was contacted by a code enforcement officer last spring.
Since that time, his father — who owned the property — died, and his brother was diagnosed with renal failure. Reheiser said he's been consumed with those health issues. He said he plans to donate one of his kidneys to his ailing brother.
He offered to prepay a lawn service to take care of the yard.
City commissioners expressed sympathy to Reheiser but ultimately decided to foreclose on the property. The procedure could be halted if the house is brought into compliance, they told him.
In a less controversial matter, city commissioners were torn on what to do with the city trolley, which has run between the sponge docks and the historic downtown area since 2002.
The trolley already operates at an average annual deficit of $23,000.
If the city were to accept the lowest bid for a new contract, that deficit would jump to $48,000, said public services director Juan Cruz.
Further, the trolley will probably need to be replaced within the next few years at the city's expense, Cruz said.
Commissioners kicked around all sorts of ideas, from raising fares to parking the trolley during slow periods — even using it to ferry senior citizens.
All agreed the trolley was an important marketing tool that they did not want to see go, but lamented the cost.
Mayor Beverley Billiris suggested decreasing the hours of operation during slow ridership times, like summer, to defray operational costs.
"There's no cost to park it," she said.
But Commissioner Peter Dalacos said he's long believed the trolley's scope should be broadened.
"I don't think the secret to this is cutting back. I think it's expanding," he said.
Posivach said she would gather data about peak ridership periods are for the board to discuss at an upcoming workshop.
Rita Farlow can be reached at (727) 445-4162 or [email protected].