Tuesday, November 20, 2018
News Roundup

Pinellas commissioners remove CareerSource board chairman

CLEARWATER –– The Pinellas County Commission ousted the chairman of the county’s regional jobs center board on Tuesday over concerns he has not taken his oversight responsibility seriously enough.

Commissioners voted unanimously to remove Aundre Green a week after he blocked an effort to suspend CareerSource Pinellas president and CEO Ed Peachey while the agency is under investigation.

"I have serious concerns about the (CareerSource) board and its independence," said Commissioner Pat Gerard, whose motion at a CareerSource executive committee meeting last week to suspend Peachey was blocked by Green. "I don’t feel that the chair is treating this with the gravity that it deserves. I am not sure that he is behaving independently."

The day after Green blocked Gerard, he unilaterally suspended Peachey with pay and without board approval amid multiple investigations into how the agency reports job placements to the state.

The other six commissioners thanked Gerard for her leadership during the CareerSource controversy. Commission Chair Ken Welch said CareerSource board members need to serve residents, not the interests of agency leaders.

"I believe that a change needs to happen there," Welch said. "The CareerSource board has to exercise their authority over the organization and the CEO."

Added Commissioner Janet Long: "There has been no mention of looking out for the best interests of the taxpayers or the folks looking for a job."

County Attorney Jewel White told commissioners they had the authority to remove the chairman. Green, a former human resources official at General Dynamics Ordinance and Tactical Systems, could not immediately be reached for comment.

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Each of Florida’s 24 regional CareerSource agencies, which receive millions in tax dollars a year to provide training and other employment services, is overseen by its own board of directors. Board members come from the fields of education, business and government, and from labor organizations.

County commissioners must approve the board members and the agencies’ budgets. But only the board of directors, not the County Commission, has the power to remove the executives who run them.

CareerSource chair-elect Jack Geller urged the commission to keep Green on the board. Every board member has put the agency’s interests above all others and are not beholden to Peachey or anyone else, he added.

"He has done an excellent job," Geller said about Green.

According to CareerSource rules, Geller will immediately lead the board, officials said.

Commissioner Dave Eggers served on the CareerSource board several years ago and said he accepts partial blame for not asking more questions about the way the agency operated.

"I really was uncomfortable for the way things moved through without much oversight," Eggers said.

Gerard stressed that removing Green had to do with accountability and transparency, not the way he cut her off and ended last week’s meeting.

Commissioners also voted to move forward on revising how members apply and are later appointed to serve on the jobs board. They will re-evaluate recent candidates who were nominated to serve.

CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay, both led by Peachey, are under federal, state and local investigations into whether they inflated the number of people they help find work in reports to the state.

The centers received $32 million in federal money in 2016 to help train and place people into jobs.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity announced the first investigation Jan. 19 after the Tampa Bay Times asked several questions about the placement numbers.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Nelson, Rubio want federal probe into CareerSource

Several people who the agencies reported they helped find jobs have told the Times they never got assistance from CareerSource. And employers who accept referrals from both offices say they were asked to submit names and personal information about all the people they hire, even if CareerSource played no role.

For years, Peachey has boasted about his track record of helping people find work. Both agencies have regularly placed tops among the 24 regional CareerSource centers in Florida in job placements, based on numbers they report to the state.

Peachey has led CareerSource Pinellas since 2002 and was tapped to take over CareerSource Tampa Bay in 2010 after a spending scandal there forced out the prior leadership.

In recent weeks, Gov. Rick Scott has urged the CareerSource boards to "consider appropriate disciplinary and administrative action" and to "review all leadership" at the jobs centers. The executive committees in each county voted to create an ad hoc panel to review how the agency reports job placements.

Contact Mark Puente at [email protected] or (727) 892-2996. Follow @MarkPuente

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