It was a rainy autumn day in 1997 and Bonnie Dyga cruised into Brooksville in her 1988 Chrysler Fifth Avenue, determined, as usual, to get what she wanted.
What she wanted was the job of Hernando County administrator. Ever since she had entered public service in 1977, that had been her goal. If she had viewed what happened next as a sign of things to come, she might have given up.
But that would have gone against her nature. Giving up had never been a choice for Dyga. We're talking about a woman who has spent her professional life accomplishing goals, and who has overcome personal setbacks all of us pray to never suffer.
She was 21 when her first husband died. She carried her 3-day-old baby to his funeral that summer in 1963, and in the fall she enrolled in community college in upstate New York. It took her three years to get her associate's degree. She lived with her grandfather, worked in a restaurant and received $100 a month from Social Security.
She remarried, had more children and dropped out of school for several years to be a homemaker. In 1971, the unthinkable happened again; her husband died in an accident at work. Dyga was 29 and her children were 12, 8 and 3 when she went back to college. Three years later she earned a bachelor's degree. Three years after that, in 1977, she received a master's degree in public administration from the University of Florida. She was 35 when she took a job with the city of Gainesville, which was the beginning of a blossoming, albeit late-blooming, career that took her to Sarasota, Dallas, and Hillsborough and Okeechobee counties.
That's not exactly the story of a quitter.
So, when Dyga neared the government complex in Brooksville on that rainy day a year and a half ago and her gas-guzzler stalled on E Fort Dade Avenue, she did what she has done so many times: she focused on the future. She parked the car, walked to the courthouse and submitted herself to an open-air interview with the County Commission, a prospect that would make most people weak at the knees.
Standing before the commissioners, Dyga casually joked about how she had arrived "on a wing and prayer." Then, as usual, she got down to business. And, as usual, she was impressive. So, impressive, in fact, the commissioners chose her above the four other finalists who had been culled from a field of 192 applicants.
A county maintenance worker escorted Dyga from the meeting and took a look at the car. The radiator was bone dry. They filled it, and she stashed gallon jugs of water in her trunk in case she broke down again on the long drive back to her home in Okeechobee County.
A year and a half after that night, Dyga suffered another breakdown. This time it wasn't her car, though; it was a breakdown in communication, and she had not just run out of steam; it was beyond repair.
Dyga resigned Wednesday, telling the commissioners she no longer believed she could work with the commission to meet the challenges facing Hernando County. Her resignation alluded to a lack of "trust" and "respect."
What she didn't do is spell out that the source of her frustration is with Commissioners Pat Novy and Bobbi Mills. That, too, would have been contrary to her nature. Dyga's a pro, and even though that duo has been overly critical of her management style and some of her most progressive proposals, she's not the type to point fingers on her way out the door.
But anyone who is paying attention should realize it is those commissioners, not Dyga, who are out of step. They are the ones who are the obstructionists. They are the ones who have cast aspersions toward Dyga and then hid behind walls of secrecy and stubbornness. They are the ones who have refused Dyga's attempts to improve communications and focus on the business at hand. They are the ones who are unwilling to limit their roles to making policies, and then trusting Dyga to implement those policies.
Why are they like that? Perhaps it's because they don't share Dyga's vision. Perhaps it's because they feel threatened by Dyga because she possesses the knowledge of what it takes to run a $187-million, 500-employee operation and they do not. Or, perhaps it's because they simply don't like her and they let their pettiness overrule their reason. Some of the graceless comments by Mills last week validate that suspicion.
Their motivations are less important than the outcome. Dyga is on her way out to a good job as the assistant city manager of Port St. Lucie, a city of more than 80,000 on Florida's east coast. They recruited her because they knew she was good and because they knew she was facing unsurmountable obstacles in Hernando County.
Now, we are left without a captain for our ship for at least three months, and probably more.
Which leaves Hernando County residents to ponder this question: If someone as determined as Bonnie Dyga, a person who has spent her life not being a quitter, walks away, what's wrong with us?