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Residents deserve to hear more on raise

Top administrators in Tarpon Springs city government will get generous pay increases this year and next, ending up with salaries 20, 30, even 40 percent higher. Lower-level city employees also will get raises, although increases will generally not be as big.

Large raises for government employees _ especially those at the top _ often spark controversy or debate. But the Tarpon Springs City Commission hardly blinked an eye before approving these increases.

Maybe it was because the mayor and commissioners also got pay raises under the new plan. Or maybe it was because the need for salary adjustments was obvious.

"We felt as a group it's better to get it done and catch up," explained Mayor Frank DiDonato.

Fair enough, as long as the commission explained the process to residents. The fact that there was little public comment could mean the pay plan and its impact on the city budget is acceptable, or it could mean residents were not given enough information or opportunity to ask questions.

One of the raises in particular stands out and needs more explanation.

Commissioners gave City Manager Ellen Posivach a 20 percent pay increase, from $78,886 a year to $94,875 in October 2000.

Posivach was hired just seven months ago at the top end of the then advertised salary range. She has kept a low profile and has yet to go through a formal job evaluation with the commissioners.

At $94,875, she will be making a lot more than the city managers in Safety Harbor and Oldsmar and nearly as much as Dunedin City Manager John Lawrence, a veteran administrator of a city that is 75 percent more populous than Tarpon Springs.

What is wrong with that? Maybe nothing more than professional jealousy. But a city manager's salary probably should be close to the range of comparable cities and definitely should be tied to performance.

DiDonato is pleased with Posivach's performance, saying she has "done phenomenally well."

But how can Tarpon Springs residents be sure of that? How can they be confident that Posivach is being fairly compensated but not overcompensated? Through the formal process of government that reveals why it is taking a certain action. In this case, that process was cut short.

First, Posivach should be more visible in the community. When residents see their city manager in action, they have a better feel for the kind of job she is doing.

Second, the City Commission should have done a public job evaluation before it gave the raise. That way, commissioners could have spelled out the reasons they are willing to pay Posivach so much compared with her peers in North Pinellas County.

For now, many residents are left to wonder what Posivach has done to earn that kind of money and what her motivation will be to work even harder over the next 14 months.

Housing program's failure no mystery

Here is a mystery that won't take a Sherlock Holmes to solve: Item 1. Forty percent of the Pinellas County Housing Authority's apartments are vacant. Item 2. Many Pinellas County residents need affordable housing. Item 3. More than 100 potential tenants turned down the chance to live in public housing.

Why?

Now here are the clues needed to solve this mystery: Clue 1. The federal "one offer" rule means a potential tenant living in St. Petersburg must take the first public housing opening, even if it is 20 miles away in Largo. Clue 2. Some public housing, such as Rainbow Village near Largo, is unattractive because its upkeep has been neglected. Clue 3. The popular Section 8 program is more popular than public housing complexes because it supplements rent in regular housing, which doesn't carry the stigma of a housing project.

Local housing authorities can't change federal rules, of course. But they can advocate for more sensible (and humane) rules. They can also put more of an effort into fixing up the public housing stock that exists.

Ultimately, the answer to public housing needs may be that high-density, substandard apartment complexes no longer serve those in need of affordable housing or the community as a whole. Mystery solved.

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