Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services chooses former Pasco school official as interim president

Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services, still reeling from revelations of fiscal mismanagement, the withdrawal of a $1.2 million state contract and the suicide of its longtime president, turned Tuesday to a leader they say will bring stability to the agency.

Gulf Coast spokesman Lisa Brock confirmed that former Pasco County School District assistant superintendent Ray Gadd has been selected as the organization's interim president. A search committee is being formed for a national hunt for a permanent president for the Clearwater-based organization. Brock said whether Gadd puts his hat in the ring is up to him.

"He came highly recommended," Brock said. "People really talk about his effectiveness as a collaborator and a leader."

The appointment was announced less than a week after Michael Bernstein, who resigned as president of Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services this month, was found dead in a Valdosta, Ga., motel room. Authorities there said Bernstein, 57, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Last Wednesday's discovery came one week after Gulf Coast announced Bernstein's resignation after three decades as the head of the organization, one of the bay area's largest nonprofit social welfare agencies.

The departure followed revelations about a contract the nonprofit had with the state Department of Education to place mentally and physically disabled people in jobs. An investigation found that, in some instances, Gulf Coast had billed the state for having found jobs for clients but produced inadequate evidence the placements had occurred.

It also found that Gulf Coast placed some clients in jobs that the state had determined would not be appropriate for them.

Gulf Coast repaid $132,000 to the state, which terminated its contract with the agency. Brock has said there was no evidence of wrongdoing on Bernstein's part.

She acknowledged that Gulf Coast is facing a challenging period.

Gulf Coast has roughly 700 employees working in 32 counties across Florida, including the bay area. It reported revenue of nearly $33 million in 2007, the last year for which federal records are available. Bernstein was being paid nearly $267,000 a year in salary and benefits that year.

She said people who know Gadd, who has 28 years of administrative experience in Pasco County schools, describe him as "a calm collaborator."

"He's smart and he's strategic. We believe he has the right tone and temperament to take the organization to the next level."

Gadd, 52, starts his new job Monday. He is well known in Pasco County for his ability to work across party lines and with diverse groups.

He holds bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of South Florida and served in a variety of positions during his career with the Pasco County School District.

He began in 1981 as a school psychologist and then was promoted to student services supervisor.

He also spearheaded the district's campaign for the Penny for Pasco, a 1-cent sales tax hike to help pay for building and renovating schools, along with other county and city projects. Voters approved the measure in 2004.

Most recently, he oversaw the buying of land for new schools and their construction, along with county regulations regarding school building, a job that often made him the mediator between the school district and the county.

Gadd was a sought-after person in June after his boss, Pasco school superintendent Heather Fiorentino, decided not to renew his contract, saying simply that she wanted "to go a different direction." Fiorentino didn't comment, but critics said she saw Gadd as a possible rival.

The termination drew criticism from the majority of School Board members and others in the community.

Secretary of State Kurt Browning, Pasco County's former supervisor of elections, sent an e-mail urging Fiorentino to reconsider.

The move then had Gadd's allies pushing for him to be named president of the Pasco County Economic Development Council, the private public partnership charged with luring new industries to the county. Its leader, Mary Jane Stanley, resigned under pressure after 10 years at the helm.

Gadd, who had earlier expressed his enthusiasm for heading the EDC, said Tuesday that the Gulf Coast job was "just a challenge of a lifetime I couldn't pass up."

Gadd's resume listed many fans, including Secretary of State Browning, Pasco County Commissioners Ted Schrader, Ann Hildebrand and Michael Cox, as well as Pasco County Sheriff Bob White and Earl Lennard, Hillsborough County's supervisor of elections and former school superintendent.

Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services chooses former Pasco school official as interim president 10/27/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 27, 2009 9:03pm]

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