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O.C. parks director is abruptly dismissed

December 12, 2006|Christian Berthelsen | Times Staff Writer

The director of the department that manages Orange County's harbors, beaches and parks has been fired.

The official, Kevin Thomas, had been spearheading an effort to reinvigorate the county's park system, which has suffered as county officials diverted nearly $150 million in park funds over the last decade to pay down bankruptcy debt and to meet an obligation to the state for public school funding.

No reason was given for his dismissal, and county officials declined to comment Monday. In a memo circulated Friday, Bryan Speegle, director of Resources and Development Management, which oversees parks, said that Parker Hancock, an operations superintendent for the system with a "long history" of work in the parks system, would serve as interim director.

The terse memo said that Thomas was no longer with the department and that "no other changes to personnel, organization or program are proposed." It told employees to refer press inquiries to the county's media relations office. That office said it was prohibited by law from commenting on personnel matters.

The department has held a series of public meetings to get input on what its priorities should be over the next five to 10 years. A separate memo said Thomas' removal would not affect the process.

Thomas did not return a telephone call Monday to his home.

Last year, the county grand jury issued a report saying the park system was underfunded and understaffed and recommended it be given more money and accorded more status. As a subdivision of Resources and Development Management, it was part of a department overseeing tasks including flood control and public works.

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christian.berthelsen@latimes.com

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