TAMPA — Tampa parks and recreation director Karen Palus and a top lieutenant left their jobs this week amid a city effort to make the oft-criticized department more responsive.
"It was a mutual parting of the ways," city chief of staff Santiago Corrada said of Palus. "She offered her resignation, we accepted it, thanked her for her years of service and wished her well in the future."
Going forward, Corrada said the city should focus on employee morale, programming and making sure it delivers services residents have requested.
Palus, 44, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. She came to the city in 2004 after working as parks operation manager for the southern part of Brevard County. Her annual salary was $121,305.
Also resigning was Cathie Schanz, 50, who had worked with Palus in Brevard. She was hired in 2006 as the department's program and organizational development manager. Her salary was $97,052 a year.
The departures were related, Corrada said, noting that Palus brought Schanz to the city. He said there were no allegations of any improper behavior.
"We look at it as an opportunity to go in a different direction," he said.
Schanz said that's all she was told about why she was called in Monday. She noted that last month, the department won national accreditation from the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies.
"I'm very proud of the work that I did here with the city," Schanz said.
Under Palus, however, the department hit some rough patches.
In 2009, the city raised park and recreation fees, some dramatically, then rolled them back last year after months of bitter complaints from residents.
Schanz said, yes, the parks department implemented the increase and then the decrease, but only at the direction of then-Mayor Pam Iorio and with the approval of the City Council.
Then this summer, City Council members expressed frustration about how long it took the parks department to complete a citywide review of repairs needed at Tampa's 13 public pools.
Council members also complained they couldn't get a straight answer on when the inner-city Williams Park Pool would be repaired, even though a South Tampa pool had already re-opened after repairs.
City officials said the two pools had very different problems, but they have since committed to spending $1.2 million on the Williams Park Pool, with a contract being awarded as soon as the first of the year.
And at Mayor Bob Buckhorn's first town hall meeting in East Tampa in July, the discussion was dominated by pointed questions about city parks.
The city will open a national search to replace Palus, Corrada said. Schanz's job might go unfilled.
The department has 485 positions and a budget of nearly $50 million, second only to public safety in the city's general fund.