Longtime Largo recreation director lashes out after sudden termination

City of Largo Recreation, Parks and Arts Director Joan Byrne was fired from her post July 27 after helming the department for the past 22 years. City Manager Henry Schubert wrote "that he has lost confidence that Byrne is able to uphold the role of leadership." Byrne said her firing was the first negative feedback she had received and demanded an apology and offer of reinstatement.

LARGO — Longtime city Recreation, Parks and Arts Director Joan Byrne lashed out at city administration in a lengthy email July 27 after her sudden termination.

"I speak not in bitterness but in concern. My firing is unusual enough to warrant independent review," she wrote to commissioners.

In an email to city employees July 27, City Manager Henry Schubert wrote "that he has lost confidence that Byrne is able to uphold the role of leadership including promoting the good of the whole, demonstrating collaboration across departments and divisions, and inspiring trust both internally and externally in the community."

Schubert wrote that firing Byrne was a very difficult decision for him and not the result of any one singular incident, adding that he is grateful for the years of service and the successes achieved by the Recreation Department during her tenure.

He wrote that "he needs to hold team members accountable for behaviors that do not align with our values and actions that do not reflect our commitments of leadership."

"I am also confident that new leadership is necessary to ensure the department and organization can foster an environment that supports innovation and embraces change to serve our diverse and growing community," he wrote.

Reached by telephone, Schubert didn't have any comments beyond his written statement.

Byrne wrote to city commissioners that she was fired after 22 years serving the city of Largo.

"No warning or opportunity to implement any desired changes was given. I went from being 'excellent' for 21 years and 'above standard' for 1 to being irredeemable in a heartbeat," she wrote.

"The stated reason for my firing was that 'they' were headed in a different direction and needed a change in leadership. When I pressed for details on whom 'they' were, or how I deviated from course, I received neither names, nor any examples other than their curious perception that I was unhappy. I was not, until being wrongfully fired," she wrote.

Though her inclination is to simply part ways quietly, Byrne wrote July 27 it would be "unconscionable to depart without some effort to inform."

She wrote that the city's manager's email, "broadcast widely without her input or opportunity to reply, makes no mention of performance."

"It implicitly accuses me of failings in humility, constructiveness, honesty, respectfulness, integrity, collaboration, passion and creativity. That’s a long list of ad hominem attacks coming from someone who never mentioned any of them informally or formally as part of my reviews. I find them profoundly offensive," she wrote.

Bryne said she deserves an apology and offer of reinstatement.

"I say that realizing both the improbability of such an offer, as well as my doubts about whether I would accept it. Negative changes in the organizational culture are more worthy of commission inquiry and of greater concern to me, than my dismissal," Byrne wrote.

Reached by telephone on July 27, Largo Mayor Woody Brown said Byrne's done a great job for the city for a long time.

Byrne was the new recreation director when he got involved in the city on the Recreation and Parks Advisory Board a long time ago.

"She was at the helm when we made a lot of improvements to parks and recreation and the city," Brown said. "I certainly wish her the best."

Brown said he had a discussion with Schubert about Byrne.

"I understand his perspective," he said. "But I also appreciate all the good work Joan has done while she has been here."

Asked if he heard any complaints about Byrne, Brown said "I wouldn't say complaints but we haven't always agreed on things," he said.

"Joan and I both appreciate a strong recreation program in the city," he said. "I think we have the best in the county."

Byrne's annual salary is $135,824, and upon signing the general release in her employment contract, she would receive six months' compensation.

Assistant Director Krista Pincince will serve as acting director of the Recreation, Parks and Arts Department.

The Florida Recreation and Park Association honored Byrne with its 2019 Achievement Award in Orlando. She is a past president of the association.