CLEARWATER — Pinellas County’s human resources director abruptly resigned Thursday amid scrutiny from the board that employs her, in yet another moment of tumult for a department rocked by instability over the past decade.
Hours before she was set to appear at the monthly meeting of Pinellas’ Unified Personnel Board, which governs the Human Resources Department, Kimberly Crum sent a letter to board members announcing she was leaving the job. She did not show up to the board meeting.
Crum, who was hired in 2020, said she was departing “in favor of another opportunity” — she did not specify what it was — and said her last day would be May 3. But the board, in a 6-1 vote Thursday night, instead decided to make her resignation effective immediately. They said they were concerned over reports of dysfunction in the department.
Staff had repeatedly complained of belittling and favoritism by Crum, leading earlier this year to a performance review in which board members said she wasn’t meeting expectations and urged her to improve relationships within the department. They were also unsettled by news that Crum was the subject of a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency that enforces workplace discrimination laws.
After the review, Crum fired her executive assistant, a human resources employee of two decades who colleagues described as beloved within the department. Board members said Thursday that the move disturbed them; several said that when they asked Crum about it, she could give no clear reason for the firing. In a public comment at Thursday’s meeting, the executive assistant’s daughter alleged her mother was fired in retaliation for the employee feedback that had informed the negative performance review.
During Thursday’s meeting, Ric Davis, the Unified Personnel Board’s vice-chairperson, said the dysfunction in Pinellas human resources lately was among the worst he’d encountered in a five-decade career that began with a human resources job and included executive-level positions. He emphasized that he believes many employees are doing their jobs well despite the environment.
Though board members referred back to the employee complaints that informed their performance review, they spent much of their time discussing Crum’s firing of the executive assistant, Peggy Sellards, which culminated with Pinellas County Sheriff’s deputies escorting Sellards from the building.
Other board members said they’d tried to look into the firing but couldn’t get full or coherent answers. Crum told Jeff Kronschnabl she’d fired Sellards for performance issues, he said. When he asked for any plans she’d put Sellards on to improve her performance, Crum said she hadn’t put anything in writing.
“I shouldn’t find out after the fact that this has occurred because my phone is blowing up with HR employees calling me,” board member Ralph Reid said.
Spend your days with Hayes
Subscribe to our free Stephinitely newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Bill Schulz, another board member, suggested the board has a responsibility to help Sellards get her job back.
“The firing of Peggy was blatant retaliation, and it was unjust, and I don’t think she should’ve been put through this to begin with,” he said.
The Unified Personnel Board cannot undo Sellards’ firing, though. Only a human resources director can hire an executive assistant.
Crum’s assistant director, Maria Ciro, will take over day-to-day duties until an interim director is hired. Though the Unified Personnel Board acts as the director’s boss, it has to wait to hire someone recommended by a different body. That job is up to a panel of 10 county officials that includes the county administrator, the tax collector and the clerk of the circuit court. This unusual structure is due to the fact that Pinellas’ human resources system was created by the state legislature in 1975 and sits outside the umbrella that covers other county agencies.
Whomever that group picks as interim director will be the department’s eighth leader in as many years, board members noted Thursday.
Crum, previously the human resources director in Tampa, was hired after a series of conflicts at the top of the agency: The previous director, Holly Schoenherr, resigned after coming under fire for her poor performance, including what County Administrator Barry Burton described as an “inability to show empathy or compassion.” The first pick for interim director in her wake, Jack Loring, was replaced after it was revealed he was the son-in-law of a Unified Personnel Board member who hadn’t disclosed the relationship.
On Friday morning, Sellards said she was still in shock over her firing and Crum’s sudden resignation. Crum “hasn’t liked me since day one,” she said, and Sellards felt Crum had spent much of the past two and a half years trying to drive her to quit. As a longtime employee well known within the department, Sellards believed her firing was meant to send a message to others: Don’t speak out.
“I think that she was making an example out of me,” she said.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the identity of a previous interim human resources director who was replaced after a familial connection emerged. He was Jack Loring.