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Pinellas County fires parks director

"Nobody saw it coming," said Diana Kyle of her termination after two years on the job.

In June 1998, Diana Kyle beat out more than 100 other applicants in a national search for the new Pinellas County parks and recreation director.

On Monday, she received a two-sentence letter from interim County Administrator Gay Lancaster informing her that she was fired.

Lancaster, who took the interim job two weeks ago after longtime County Administrator Fred Marquis retired, declined to say why she fired Kyle.

Kyle attended Tuesday's County Commission meeting and thanked commissioners for "two wonderful years."

She would not comment on her termination other than to say she was surprised by the events.

"Nobody saw it coming," Kyle said. "Nobody."

County documents give little insight into what led to the shake-up.

The county attorney's office typed up an agreement last week that would have allowed Kyle to resign and remain on paid administrative leave through Jan. 1, 2001.

The document was delivered to Kyle on Thursday, and she was given until Friday at noon to sign it.

Kyle's attorney asked that the deadline be extended to 1:30 p.m. on Monday, which the county agreed to, Lancaster said.

After the Monday deadline had passed, Kyle faxed a request to Lancaster asking that she have more time to speak with her attorney.

In that same fax, Kyle wrote, "I feel that the treatment I am receiving with respect to this matter is not in line with the discipline received by exempt male employees in the past who were in the employ of Pinellas County."

Lancaster declined her request for more time to sign the agreement.

"We felt we had extended the deadline twice and that was quite sufficient. If she was going to sign it, she would have," Lancaster said. "She was terminated, but certainly given an opportunity to resign with an offer of paid leave status."

Kyle, 48, earned about $93,000 a year. A Tampa resident, she was deputy director of parks for the city of Tampa before taking the Pinellas County job. In Pinellas, she oversaw the county's 23 parks _ nearly 5,000 acres of park land _ and was known to spend more time tromping through scrub and wilderness than sitting in her office.

Her dismissal caught members of the parks advisory board off-guard.

"I don't know what she could've done to cause a firing," said Tommy Assimack, a member of the citizens board that recommends park improvements to the County Commission. "I wish it wasn't true."

Assistant County Administrator Jake Stowers, Kyle's immediate supervisor, agreed with the termination, Lancaster said. Stowers was out of town Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.

Assistant Parks Director Joseph Lupardus is overseeing the department now, Lancaster said.

Advisory board members said they worried what would become of their organization and of the county's parks without Kyle.

"We loved her because she cared about those parks," vice chairwoman Barbara Koyutis said. "What did she do that was so grievous they had to fire her? Nobody is offering an explanation."