After a quiet campaign season, Port Richey is poised to swear in its three election winners next week, and one of the first tasks at hand should be to provide stronger guidance to its well-traveled city manager, Ellen Posivach.
As Times staff writer Drew Harwell reported, since her hiring 10 months ago, Posivach has traveled, at public expense, to Orlando, Tallahassee and Marco Island in Florida and to Washington, D.C., San Antonio, Texas and Montreal.
Travel costs alone are $5,000. Her salary was extra.
After the Montreal trip for the five-day International City/County Management Association's annual conference, Posivach submitted an invoice saying she worked nearly 80 hours. Compensation for her work time, travel, meals, and fees amounted to about $6,000.
It's an extravagance the public shouldn't have to finance amid prolonged municipal government budget crunches triggered by a recession, dwindling property values and increased property tax exemptions approved by voters. The Montreal trip came just after the council approved its 2009-10 spending plan, which included increasing the tax levy 8 percent to its rollback rate in order to balance its budget. If the public is being asked to pony up more money to run the local government, the staff frequent-flier miles need to be grounded.
The council also should demand more transparency from Posivach, whenever she's in town. They shouldn't be surprised, as they were last week, to discover their city manager had retained a $60-an-hour consultant last August to help broker a deal for the city to acquire the vacant site of a former dilapidated mobile home park. The bill, so far, for Charlie Attardo's efforts, is about $1,000. The council was so unimpressed with his work, it asked for a new appraisal.
Perhaps most disconcerting is Posivach's one-person company, Management Solutions, that she said she started after leaving her job as city manager in Tarpon Springs in 2008. In her corporate role, Posivach said, she does budgeting and streamlining work for three unnamed companies she said do no business with the city.
How do we know? The state's Division of Corporate Records has no listing for Posivach's company on its electronic records Web site and she declined to divulge her private-sector ties. The council should require her to do so.
Port Richey residents have tolerated too much City Hall secrecy from a former mayor whose home mortgage was assumed by a newly formed trust; a secret investment group suing the city to ram through a dubious land use change for coastal property, and a council member owning real estate with the then-city attorney. It shredded public confidence that appointed and elected City Hall officials acted in residents' best interests.
The new council shouldn't allow the trend to reappear. People who accept employment in the public sector have to be prepared to accept the accompanying public scrutiny. Given the city's history of municipal goofiness prior to Posivach's arrival, she should embrace an opportunity to assert a professional tone of governing, whether it's publicly dispelling potential for conflicting interests or doing more work at her desk and less at out-of-town resorts.