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Hernando administrator explains resignation

Commissioner Bobbi Mills questions why Dyga is still around, while other commissioners say ousting Pat Novy may be next.

When County Administrator Bonnie Dyga traveled to Port St. Lucie on July 30 to interview for a job as assistant city manager, she told City Manager Don Cooper about her well-publicized dustups with some Hernando County commissioners.

In fact, it was the chronic nature of those clashes that led her to start thinking about finding a new job about six months ago, even though she had been in Hernando only since February 1998.

Cooper said he was unfazed because he considers that kind of unpleasantness an inevitable part of working in government. A few days later he called and offered Dyga the job, which she will start as soon as her resignation takes effect Oct. 10. She was his first choice.

What attracted Cooper to Dyga? "Her maturity, stability, her experience and her personality," he said. "I wanted somebody who could take my place if I were to leave."

What attracted Dyga to the job? After all, it will mean a pay cut; her salary will drop from $82,000 to about $77,000 in Port St. Lucie, a city of 83,000 north of Palm Beach. In addition, she will no longer be the chief executive.

Dyga said those issues do not concern her _ a reflection of her frustration with the contentiousness that has become the norm in County Commission chambers.

"You can't just look at the bottom line," she said. "Jobs are more than just money."

As for having "assistant" in her title, she said, "I'm a subordinate to the commission now. We all play the subordinate, and I think I can play the role."

One day after her surprise announcement, Dyga spoke in more depth about her decision to leave the place where she had once hoped to retire. She partly blamed unidentified county staffers and both commission Chairwoman Pat Novy and Commissioner Bobbi Mills, frequent critics of her performance.

"They can't get along with their board members, can't get along with the administrator, can't get along with staff," Dyga said of the two commissioners.

Speaking publicly for the first time was Mills, who had left for vacation just hours before Dyga tendered her resignation at noon Wednesday.

Mills said she looked forward to having a new administrator. And she criticized Dyga for, among other things, venturing into the commission's policy-setting arena, failing to delegate more often and demonstrating a "my way or the highway" attitude.

Mills even wondered why Dyga chose to stay on until October.

"How much enthusiasm can she have if she's going to quit?" she asked.

Dyga, 57, probably will not wait that long to turn over day-to-day control to an interim administrator, who has yet to be chosen. She said she hopes to take 30 days of vacation before she leaves.

Though admittedly saddened by her decision, Dyga sounded calm Thursday, as if a weight had been lifted. She spoke warmly of the flowers and cards she received from supporters. One man offered her $100 if she wanted to sue Mills or Novy for "slander," she said. Even radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem called to say he will be sorry to see her go.

Dyga said she decided to quit because she had become "the issue" and was worried that would hinder progress on key matters facing the growing county. She tried to address her problems with Mills, she said, to no avail.

In June, for instance, Dyga wanted to sit down with Mills and a mediator, Hernando Today general manager and publisher Duane Chichester. Dyga said she suggested Chichester because she and Mills got along with him. The meeting was to take place at the Hernando Community Blood Bank on Cortez Boulevard.

Mills balked at the idea.

"I'm sorry," she said Thursday, "but if I've got a problem with Bonnie, we take it up in the board room or it's between Bonnie and me. But we don't involve the newspaper."

Mills said she might have been open to a different mediator but never suggested one.

While clashes between Novy and Dyga have garnered bigger headlines lately, Dyga has had problems with Mills since her arrival 18 months ago.

Before the commission unanimously hired her, Dyga said, Mills told her "She didn't feel this county was ready for a woman administrator."

Dyga remembers telling friends afterward, "I'm not going to get this job because of gender bias."

Mills remembers the exchange differently. She said she made the comment in a "chummy" conversation after Dyga got the job and put it in the context of, "I certainly would not have believed Hernando County would be ready for a female administrator, but she did extremely well."

The comment came up in conversation between the two more than once afterward.

"It was not an issue I was making, but she apparently thought so," Mills said.

Meanwhile, some commissioners began to hear from the public Thursday. Commissioner Paul Sullivan said residents asked him essentially the same question: "What the hell is going on up on the fourth floor (in the commission office)?"

Commissioner Nancy Robinson said she had fielded nearly 30 calls by lunchtime Thursday, all supportive of Dyga.

"People are very concerned," she said.

Robinson used the word "abuse" to describe how Mills and Novy have treated Dyga. And she said Dyga's departure may spur a second attempt to remove Novy, a fellow Democrat, as chairwoman. The first try, earlier this summer, did not reach a vote when it became clear that only Robinson and Sullivan would support it.

"I think it's time to give it consideration again," Robinson said.

Cooper, 49, said he expects Dyga to have no difficulty with the five-member Port St. Lucie City Council.

"The chain of command is pretty well established," he said. "The council follows it. I don't think Bonnie is going to have a problem with it."

Another difference is that while Dyga has worked under one-year contracts in Hernando, Port St. Lucie has agreed to a three-year contract. Cooper still could fire her, but Dyga said the longer term will give her enough of a comfort level to buy a house. She now rents in Spring Hill.

Asked what she would tell her prospective replacement, Dyga offered this advice:

"I would say there are a lot of wonderful things about this community and a lot of opportunities to really make a difference. They need to be aware that the council-manager form of government does not work in its purest form here."