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Times editorial

Tarpon Springs city manager needs to remember who's in charge

It appears that Tarpon Springs city manager Ellen Posivach may have burned one too many bridges. Some of her City Commission bosses want to talk about replacing her. ¶ It is not surprising that it has come to this. Posivach's behavior since last year has been atypical for a city manager, and several members of the City Commission have had enough of it. They are particularly offended that last week, Posivach vaguely hinted at legal action against them.

Posivach has been city manager of Tarpon Springs for nine years. The community did not warm to her immediately, and City Hall watchers questioned her frequent absences, her defensiveness when challenged, a lack of transparency and her habit of delegating duties to other staff members.

Yet her previous administrative experience, particularly in the area of public works, was helpful in a city that struggled with outdated methods, old infrastructure and a wastewater treatment plant that didn't work. Posivach won praise from some commissioners for tackling those problems, for her conservative budgeting and for launching the city's effort to establish its own drinking water system. The city won awards and grants under her direction.

And in a town famous for its past scandals, commissioners seemed grateful enough for the relative peace to overlook Posivach's weaknesses.

That equilibrium was disturbed, though, when Posivach, whose salary is $123,000 annually, sparked a debate about getting compensated for "overtime."

City managers work long hours and never escape from the job, because they are always on call. So they are paid well. City managers don't typically get overtime and they don't punch a clock.

But starting early last fall, Posivach began to make special requests relating to her pay and benefits.

First, she said she had accrued vacation days during 2007 that she would lose at the end of the fiscal year unless she was granted permission by commissioners to roll them over to this year. She also wanted the commission to approve retroactively a rollover of 2006 vacation time. She said she had gotten approval for that rollover from her subordinate, Mark LeCouris, who is second in command in the city administration.

Posivach also wanted to know how she could get "comp time" in the future. She had given herself three days of "comp time" in June 2007 for time she spent driving back and forth to Tallahassee to lobby earlier in the year, but had since learned there was no procedure to authorize compensatory time off for herself.

Posivach's requests raised eyebrows on the City Commission, but commissioners eventually granted the rollovers, while also pointing out that salaried city managers don't qualify for formal "comp time." They also ordered Posivach to notify them in the future when she was going to be absent from the city.

Then last month, Posivach asked commissioners if she could take two paid days off — March 17 and 18 — in exchange for two weekend days she had worked at a conference. When commissioners didn't immediately agree, she used vacation time instead. Only later did commissioners learn that on those days she planned to be in Arizona interviewing for a city manager job.

For some on the City Commission, Posivach's attempt to collect city pay while interviewing for another job was shocking. At the March 18 City Commission meeting, which Posivach missed because she was in Arizona, commissioners decided they had to draft a written policy on comp time so there could be no confusion in the future. Commissioner Peter Dalacos also said he had reviewed records of Posivach's time off while she has been employed by the city and claimed she had received benefits that were not provided for in her contract.

Posivach returned from Arizona to a commission upset enough to talk about finding a new manager. She withdrew her application for the Arizona job and said she wanted to remain in Tarpon Springs. Yet at last week's commission meeting, she raised commissioners' hackles again by saying that three lawyers had called her about the possibility of filing slander suits over comments made about her at the March 18 commission meeting.

"I took it as a threat," said Commissioner Chris Alahouzos.

This may come as a surprise to Posivach, but it normally isn't a good idea to quibble about your pay and hours when your high salary is being paid by working-class taxpayers. It also isn't wise to threaten your bosses with a slander suit.

Commissioners are Posivach's superiors and are entitled to demand that she be accountable to them, and ultimately, to the public, in every aspect of her work for the city. Posivach, a manager who has always shown an independent streak, needs to decide to live with that without complaining or move on.

Tarpon Springs city manager needs to remember who's in charge 04/05/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 7, 2008 12:17pm]
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