The rumor that the county administrator would be fired Tuesday has been circulating for some time. The administrator, Bonnie Dyga, acknowledges she feels insecure in her job.
Department heads heard it. Some county commissioners knew. Regular commission-watchers were spreading the word.
Psst, everyone whispered: Commission Chairwoman Pat Novy is going to call for a vote to dismiss County Administrator Bonnie Dyga at the end of Tuesday's commission meeting.
It didn't happen.
"I haven't heard anything about it," a wide-eyed Novy said. "Where do you get those weird ideas?" she asked a reporter late Tuesday night.
Though the rumor proved false, the plausibility most people instantly gave it underscored the tension that exists between Dyga and three of the five commissioners: Novy, Chris Kingsley and Bobbi Mills.
There are not now the votes to fire her, but Dyga is on shaky ground less than a year and a half after taking the $82,000-a-year job in February 1998. Commissioner Bobbi Mills would like to see Dyga go, and Commissioner Chris Kingsley said he expects "marked improvement" soon.
Novy, meanwhile, unleashed a torrent of biting memos at Dyga last week, accusing her of disobeying commission directives and failing to provide important information. Still, Novy said, she does not intend to seek her firing, though she had no kind words for Dyga.
"I'm trying to work with her," Novy said.
Dyga heard the rumor of her firing Tuesday morning from an unidentified source she considered credible. She spent the rest of the day waiting to see if it would come true.
Dyga said she has never felt secure in her job and considers the county a "harsh environment" for an administrator. Frustrated by the drumbeat of criticism from some commissioners, she admitted she has considered stepping down.
"I've gone home at night and sometimes thought about it," she said. "But I think I'm doing a good job and making a difference.
"Am I going to quit? No."
Commissioners Paul Sullivan and Nancy Robinson, both stalwart Dyga supporters, hope she stays.
"I just think she's a strong administrator, and there are people who either resent it or are fearful of it," Sullivan said.
"I think most people appreciate the fact she is trying to bring Hernando County into the 20th century before it becomes the 21st century," he said.
When the commission fired Chuck Hetrick as administrator in 1997, ending his 13-year tenure, some commissioners said they wanted a more aggressive leader.
Dyga has made changes, restructuring the county bureaucracy to spread more responsibility among department heads. She has also aggressively campaigned for a quick program to repave the county's deteriorating network of residential roads.
But Novy has objected to Dyga's suggested paving solution _ a $21-million bond _ and Sullivan said relations between the two have gotten "progressively worse" since the roads issue came to the forefront this spring.
On June 1, Dyga received several memos from Novy. In one, Dyga was taken to task for telling the legal department to review an employee's bill that commissioners had ordered paid.
In another, she claimed Dyga still had not explained the origins of $28.9-million left over in the budget when the last fiscal year ended Sept. 30.
"As far as I am concerned," Novy wrote, "you still have not addressed the most important issue: where was the $28.9 (million) before it was allocated as revenue in the resolutions of November '98 through March."
The criticism is echoed by members of the watchdog Good Government League, whose members have long supported Novy.
Dyga said she and staff members have gone over the figures with Novy and Good Government League members several times. Novy, she added, gives her little time to discuss such matters: "She spends about 20 minutes a week with me."
Novy said she is too busy for frequent or long meetings. "I don't have time to sit down and slowly go over this or that. I need to get in there, get my questions answered."
Sullivan blamed the communication problem on Novy.
"If she stopped running around trying to solve Y2K problems which don't exist," he said, "maybe she could spend more time on behalf of the citizens of Hernando County."
Kingsley has been on the commission only since January, but he has faulted Dyga on a number of occasions. Like Mills and Novy, he is unhappy with the way Dyga handled the $12,600 legal bill for Chris Soto, a utilities employee who sued the county for a grievance hearing after being denied a promotion in 1997.
Kingsley also objected when Dyga asked department heads to communicate information to commissioners through her, as the county's chief executive officer.
"I took that basically as a slap in the face," he said.
A former teacher, Kingsley said he gives Dyga a grade of C. He believes Dyga too often blames her mistakes on "bad communication."
The tension between Dyga and Mills has deeper roots.
Mills claims Dyga lied to her last year after a public works employee was summoned to Dyga's office because of complaints that her shorts were too short. Mills said Dyga kept changing her story about who lodged the complaint.
"She lied to me outright," Mills said Wednesday.
Dyga said, "I don't know what conversation she's recalling."
Mills also said Dyga treats Brooksville city officials, homeowners associations and other groups "like dirt," a charge Dyga denies.
Contrary to what some people say, Mills said, she and Dyga have professional disagreements, not a personality conflict.
Dyga painted a bleak picture of life with commissioners.
"I never felt secure in this job," she said. "I think it's a very harsh environment for an administrator. There is a lot of micromanagement. I think that's the way they've operated here."
If she were fired, the county would have to pay Dyga three months' severance, or $20,500. But Dyga expressed hope that her relationship with her bosses can get better.
"I'm just going to keep on keeping on and hope they will improve communication with me as I try to improve communication with them."