Friday, July 20, 2018
News Roundup

CareerSource leader Ed Peachey, once considered Mr. Fix It, now under scrutiny

Edward Peachey quickly earned a reputation as a fix-it guy after he arrived in Pinellas County.

The local job placement center had hired him as chief financial officer, but within six months he was executive director, charged with cleaning up the agency’s messy bookkeeping.

Over the next 15 years, the certified accountant blossomed from a numbers cruncher into one of Tampa Bay’s most influential industry leaders. He was tapped to take over the Hillsborough County job placement center when it became mired in a spending scandal in 2010.

Peachey was praised for navigating government regulations and for his apparent Midas touch in connecting workers to jobs. His two agencies routinely ranked near the top in the state for job placements.

EDITORIAL: Immediate changes are needed at CareerSource

Now, Peachey, 54, faces a controversy that in years past he might have been brought in to fix. State and federal legislators have called for investigations into whether CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay inflated those vaunted job placement figures by taking credit for getting people jobs who they didn’t actually help.

The Department of Economic Opportunity says it is executing a "full and thorough investigation" into both agencies, including whether the state paid out incentive money based on exaggerated placement numbers.

Just last week, the governor called for local authorities to convene emergency board meetings and "consider appropriate disciplinary and administrative action."

The fast-moving controversy has surprised several of Peachey’s supporters and bosses, who described him as a cerebral and strategic workaholic.

Former Pinellas board member Tony Leisner called him "diligent" and "a good team builder."

"It’s a mystery to me that this is going on," Leisner said. "It’s so contrary to the guy that I knew."

• • •

Peachey joined the Pinellas career center in 2002, after the previous CFO turned out to not have graduated from college. Soon after, the director resigned, too, amid reports of bookkeeping and accounting problems.

Peachey had attended high school in a small railroad town in central Pennsylvania before earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh in 1987. He moved to Florida after college, according to his resume, and worked for a Tampa accounting firm. Peachey, who is licensed as a certified public accountant, eventually joined the Pasco workforce center, before becoming the vice president of finance for the center that oversees Citrus, Levy and Marion counties.

It wasn’t long before Peachey’s bosses in Pinellas were doling out kudos.

Then-chairman Leroy Sullivan, wrote in a letter that there were "no words sufficiently expressive" to convey the board’s appreciation "for your tireless efforts and extensive hours spent to straighten out the financial records."

Over the next decade, former board members said, he impressed his colleagues as a competent, shrewd manager. An early performance evaluation in his county personnel file gave Peachey perfect scores for ethics, job knowledge and dependability.

Pinellas School Board Chairwoman Rene Flowers recalled how Peachey opened a center at Pinellas Technical College on 34th Street S and promoted equal access to job training in minority communities.

"He had ideas about how to embrace the community, some programs to put in place, so we were making sure that individuals were trained in the areas where there were needs," Flowers said.

Craig Brethauer, a former BayCare Health Systems executive and Pinellas jobs board member, remembered working with Peachey on an award-winning nursing program that helped trainees who could not afford to enter the field.

During the recession, Leisner recalled, Peachey held numerous job fairs by calling on businesses to sponsor some of the programs, overcoming a lack of public funding when people needed help most.

In 2010, his growing reputation helped him land the top job in Hillsborough, where the agency was enveloped in a spending scandal. Since then, Hillsborough County commissioners and agency board members have often lauded him.

"Ed, you’ve done a fantastic job," board chair Richard Peck said at an executive board meeting last December. "That’s why you’re No. 1 in the state."

• • •

A crack in Peachey’s relationship with local leaders first emerged publicly in 2016.

Pinellas Commissioner Ken Welch accused him of ending a contract with an auditing firm without board approval. Peachey terminated the deal after he learned the firm had hired the agency’s former chief financial officer.

Then weeks ago, Welch led commissioners in not approving some of Peachey’s recommended appointments to the agency’s board, saying Peachey did not provide qualifications for nominees or explanations on why some people were excluded. That prompted a Tampa Bay Times article. Peachey pushed back.

"CareerSource Pinellas has been extremely successful for the past 14 years under the leadership of the President and CEO and the board of directors," he wrote in a letter criticizing the article and commissioners. "... We don’t hear this lauded at the (commission) meeting nor do we read it (in) the papers."

While generally responsive, several former board members said Peachey can grow irritated when challenged.

"He always had the answers, and he had the rationale," Leisner said. "Though Ed did have an aggressive streak in him. If he felt very strongly about something, you knew it."

Welch said Peachey’s relationship with the Pinellas board has changed in the last few years.

"For one reason or another he has not appeared before the County Commission, sends updates through staff, so it’s been distant," Welch said.

Peachey, who according to payroll records earned about $291,000 in 2016, and the agencies’ lawyer did not respond to a call or email requesting comment for this article.

By necessity, Peachey has long brushed shoulders with the area’s leaders, but few seemed to know him outside of work. He has seldom donated to political campaigns. Several of his neighbors in St. Petersburg’s Broadwater community said they only know him from passing greetings when he’s walking his dog.

"I don’t think I’ve ever had a drink with him," said Brethauer, the former board member and Baycare executive.

"Ed’s always been very quiet," said former Pinellas board member Deveron Gibbons. "He’s seemed to be very cerebral."

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman said last week that before the investigations, she knew Peachey to be "very strategic and just very hardworking." But now Murman, who is on the CareerSource Tampa Bay board, said she wants "to wait and see how the investigation comes out."

One person who said he considered Peachey a personal friend is Rusty Skinner, his old boss who still heads the CareerSource agency in Citrus, Levy and Marion counties. Skinner’s daughter works for Peachey in Tampa.

Skinner said Peachey was a competent employee and a steadying force at the jobs training program in the late 1990s.

"When you’re in a situation where there’s a lot of stress, you hope that people will cover your (back) and will help you bring out your own integrity," Skinner said. "It’s my hope that when the dust settles for all this, that he’s able to have that, too."

TAMPA BAY TIMES COVERAGE: FLORIDA’S JOBS CENTER

PREVIOUS: Ousted Orlando jobs official now top leader at bay area CareerSource

INVESTIGATIONS: Lawmakers call for additional inquiries into Tampa Bay’s two CareerSource boards

INSPECTOR GENERAL: Investigation launched into Tampa Bay career centers

FROM TALLAHASSEE: Gov. Rick Scott urges CareerSource directors to consider ‘disciplinary and administrative action’

PAYROLL: Tampa Bay jobs chief Ed Peachey making top dollar

SHERIFF SEVERS TIES: Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri cuts contract with CareerSource Pinellas

Contact Zachary T. Sampson at [email protected] Mark Puente at [email protected] or (727) 892-2996.

 
Comments
Officials speak out against demolition plans for historic Jordan Park section

Officials speak out against demolition plans for historic Jordan Park section

ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas County School board chair Rene Flowers was fired up Friday. She talked about growing up in Jordan Park, the city’s first public housing project and a sentimental and historic marker of St. Petersburg’s African-American commu...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Editorial: NFL calls wise time-out on disciplining protests

The National Football League kept an embarrassing situation from becoming even worse by shelving its new policy clamping down on players who refuse to stand for the national anthem.The league announced late Thursday it would suspend the 2-month old p...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Iraqi interpreter whose citizenship fight was profiled in the Times to become an American

Iraqi interpreter whose citizenship fight was profiled in the Times to become an American

An interpreter who risked his life helping U.S. forces in Iraq then fought for two years to become a U.S. citizen will soon be an American.On Friday, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service notified Haeder Alanbki, 36, that his request for citiz...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Tampa Bay Rays dream big but follow trend in plans for smaller stadium

Tampa Bay Rays dream big but follow trend in plans for smaller stadium

TAMPA — When it comes to filling a ballpark, the Tampa Bay Rays are Major League Baseball’s perennial bottom-dweller.The team has finished last in average attendance the past six seasons at Tropicana Field. As of the All-Star Game, the season’s tradi...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Carlton: Rotary Clubs support no-women-allowed dinner. What year is this?

Going "stag" sounds so old-fashioned — boys night out, sans the gals.But it’s not so outdated in certain Rotary clubs in the Brandon suburbs and still rural Plant City. There, the decades-old no-women-allowed tradition of the yearly stag Wild Game Di...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Bucs, Jensen reach out to fans as training camp approaches

Bucs, Jensen reach out to fans as training camp approaches

SARASOTA — The backdrop at University Park Country Club had a larger-than-life image of Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy with one of the team's slogans for 2018: "JOIN THE KREWE."New Bucs center Ryan Jensen was on hand for a luncheon hosted b...
Updated: 2 hours ago
For starters: Rays open second half at home vs. Marlins

For starters: Rays open second half at home vs. Marlins

Greetings from Tropicana Field, where the Rays come out of the All-Star break with a three-game series against the Marlins. Here's the lineup for Tampa Bay, which dropped two of three to the Marlins in Miami:Kiermaier CFHechavarria SSBauers 1BRoberts...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Florida is still paying SunPass contractor, even after officials said they would stop

Florida is still paying SunPass contractor, even after officials said they would stop

Florida has not stopped paying the SunPass contractor responsible for the tolling system’s outage, even after transportation officials said the state would suspend all payments.In a letter on Monday, FDOT secretary Mike Dew said the state would not p...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Jaguars’ Dante Fowler suspended one game for 2017 arrest

Jaguars’ Dante Fowler suspended one game for 2017 arrest

Former Lakewood and Gators star Dante Fowler, now with the Jacksonville Jaguars, has been suspended from the upcoming season opener for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy in a 2017 arrest in St. Petersburg.Fowler, 23, was arrested in his hom...
Updated: 3 hours ago
USF reportedly lands Virginia Tech transfer

USF reportedly lands Virginia Tech transfer

USF reportedly has added some offensive line depth, adding Virginia Tech transfer Thomas Hopple.It appears 247Sports had the story first. Hopple, not projected to be a part of the Hokies' two-deep chart in 2018, must sit out this season per NCAA tran...
Updated: 4 hours ago