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Vote taken on ex-sheriff's worker

After the hours of testimony and cross-examination, the bitter objections and the political innuendo, the question of whether former sheriff's polygraph operator Hans Dara should have been fired came down on Monday morning to five votes.

The first belonged to Dan Noda. He is a major sitting as a substitute on the Career Service Board, started by Sheriff Jim Gillum to hear appeals on firings.

Reminding Dara that they both were trained as police officers at a time when orders were not supposed to be questioned, Noda voted to uphold Dara's firing on a charge of insubordination.

Ever since he was fired in July, Dara has denied being insubordinate. He said he had earned the enmity of top administrators by refusing to violate office procedures, or to give the relatives of top administrators a free pass on screening tests.

The unusual appearance of both Gillum and rival sheriff's candidate Lee Cannon at an earlier hearing for Dara gave his case a decidedly political overtone.

Next on the board was retired Judge Frank Gates, the only civilian member. Gates said he thought there was "no cause" for the firing because Dara had been asked to perform background investigations, a duty that Gillum's policy reserves only for sworn officers.

Then came Detective John Stanley. Saying he believed that Dara had raised doubts about the decisions of sheriff's administrators, Stanley found the firing to have been unjustified.

The count now stood 2-1 in Dara's favor. Lieutenant Bill Murphy, the chair of the board, was next.

As the chair, Murphy occupies a powerful position. But he might be on the hot seat, too. Former Chief Deputy Jim Francis said Murphy had been targeted for firing by Gillum after the elections because Murphy once had made a derogatory comment about Christine Puto, the staff attorney whom Gillum dates.

Noting the newspaper stories about the Dara hearing, Murphy said that the board felt "pressure _ yes, there is pressure." That notwithstanding, Murphy said, Dara had declined to accept new duties that he might have taken.

"I find cause for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office," Murphy said.

The vote was now 2-2. Roberta Penix, the supervisor of communications, was last.

"No cause," she said quickly. Dara had his job back.

"I'm very happy I was vindicated," Dara said a few minutes later. Dara, 60, said he looked forward to resuming the duties of his $18,000-a-year job.

Dara's attorney, Craig Laporte said, while he didn't mean to question the integrity of any of the board members, the ones who had voted to reinstate Dara over the wishes of the sheriff and his top administrators were "very courageous."

Puto, who had argued the case for the Sheriff's Office, declined to comment afterward.

"I don't have to talk to you any more, Mr. Dougherty," Puto said, apparently in echo of the sheriff last week. Shortly after his defeat in the runoff, Gillum said he no longer would have to do things for the sake of politics, among them, talk to reporters for the Times.

Gillum did not return a telephone message on Monday.

After the hearing, Penix declined to elaborate on her action. She explained her terse statement by saying she liked to keep things to the point. Then she got in her car and drove off.