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Firing of official not being explained

Hints of a lawsuit may be the reason behind the official reticence in county Parks Director Diana Kyle's dismissal.

Pinellas County's top brass is remaining silent on why the leader of one of its most popular departments was fired earlier this week.

Parks Director Diana Kyle, who professed her love for snakes, alligators and even bugs when she was hired two years ago, was shown the door Monday by Interim County Administrator Gay Lancaster.

Lancaster and county commissioners refuse to say why Kyle was dismissed, saying that her departure is an internal personnel matter. It seems the spectre of a lawsuit is contributing to the silence.

"I think there are legal ramifications, and for that reason, I don't want to speak about it," said Commissioner Sallie Parks. "I don't think the public really needs to have any reason. In my opinion, this is a management decision."

Parks would say only that Kyle did nothing "immoral or illegal" before she was fired.

Commissioner Barbara Sheen Todd, who also was briefed by Lancaster about Kyle's firing, said it would be inappropriate to share details about the incident.

"These are issues that take place between employees and supervisors and should not be made a big deal of publicly," said Todd, who added that Lancaster's decision to fire Kyle came down to "differences in administrative style."

"I think there are some internal issues that I'm not ready to share with you," she said.

Kyle's attorney would not comment on Wednesday, and Kyle did not return phone calls to her Tampa home.

In Florida's most densely populated county, where green space is at a premium, Kyle watched over nearly 5,000 acres of park land from Tarpon Springs to Tierra Verde _ 23 county parks in all. She supervised about 270 employees.

Her personnel file includes no indication of poor performance _ in fact, Assistant County Administrator Jake Stowers, her immediate supervisor, recommended her for a 5 percent merit increase in her salary last year. That raised her pay to about $93,000 a year.

Residents and park supervisors who worked with Kyle raved about her. On Wednesday, one supervisor compared losing Kyle to experiencing a sudden death in the family.

It appears that whatever troubles were brewing came to a head last week when the county attorney's office drew up an agreement for Kyle to sign. The document, given to Kyle on Thursday, would have allowed her to resign and remain on paid administrative leave through Jan. 1, 2001, if she had signed it by noon Friday.

After a request from Kyle's attorney, Ed Foreman, the county extended the deadline to 1:30 p.m. on Monday.

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."

That statement apparently has county officials fearing a lawsuit may be in the works.

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