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Times editorial

Tarpon Springs leaders put cart before horse

City Manager Ellen Posivach says she plans to stay. The commission voted to look into a replacement.

City Manager Ellen Posivach says she plans to stay. The commission voted to look into a replacement.

Bulletin to Tarpon Springs city commissioners: You can't bring in a new city manager if the current one is still on the job. ¶ A narrow commission majority created by the addition of Susan Slattery voted last week to start looking for a new city manager. But the commission neither fired nor asked for the resignation of Ellen Posivach, city manager for nine years.

Perhaps the commissioners assumed that Posivach would just leave. Instead, Posivach told a St. Petersburg Times reporter, she plans to stick around.

"We'll just see where this goes," she said.

Commissioners may have valid reasons for deciding that it is time to change the leadership in City Hall, but they have made a mess of the process. Typically, elected officials would ask for the manager's resignation within a specified time period and ask the city manager to negotiate an exit deal. If no resignation was tendered, they would vote to fire the manager. Then they would talk about how and when to start searching for a city manager and whom to appoint as interim manager.

The Tarpon commissioners have put the cart before the horse. They should call a special meeting as soon as possible to discuss how to put the cart back on the right end of the horse.

The last thing they want to do is start a search for a new city manager while the current manager is still in the post with no plan to leave. The money and time they spent organizing a search would be wasted, because no qualified, sensible individual would apply for the job under such circumstances.

In a badly managed, rambling and confusing discussion after midnight last week, commissioners and members of the audience accused Posivach of poor communication, failure to get out into the community, manipulative behavior, nonexistent people skills, greediness about money, failure to give commissioners objective information on agenda items, and loss of the trust and confidence of the city staff.

Posivach started the conversation at the end of a long agenda by apologizing to the commission and any residents who had been upset by her recent requests for comp time.

Mayor Beverley Billiris suggested that the city hire a facilitator to help the City Commission and Posivach resolve their differences. Billiris also suggested that the commission start doing written evaluations of Posivach.

Commissioner Robin Saenger seemed to agree with that approach, saying she saw no reason to get rid of the manager now.

But Commissioner Peter Dalacos, who has butted heads with Posivach for years, Commissioner Chris Alahouzos and Slattery eventually moved the discussion away from the idea of a facilitator and toward the need for a new city manager.

Dalacos and Alahouzos painted Posivach as a person they could no longer trust. Alahouzos mentioned how he had met with Posivach recently and listened to her talk about how much she loved Tarpon Springs and wanted to stay there, and then three days later learned that she was a finalist for a city manager job in Arizona.

Still, no one made a motion to fire Posivach or ask for her resignation. It was close to 2 a.m. Finally, Dalacos made a motion that the commission begin looking into hiring a new city manager. The motion passed 3-2.

And that's where it stands.

The public's interest is not served by having this kind of confusion in city government, especially at a time when local governments face tremendous challenges.

Posivach has done many good things for the city during her tenure, but the criticisms raised at last week's meeting were valid, too. A city manager who does not have the trust of a majority of her commission cannot lead effectively. Even supporters of Posivach know that.

Billiris should call an immediate special meeting of the commission so members can establish a path forward.

Tarpon Springs leaders put cart before horse 04/19/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 21, 2008 4:19pm]
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