ST. PETERSBURG –– Pinellas County commissioners said they don’t have the power to fire CareerSource Pinellas leader Edward Peachey, but they plan to ask the agency’s board of directors to oust the embattled leader.
During a workshop Tuesday, commissioners agreed that Peachey should, at a minimum, step aside until state investigators determine whether the jobs center and its sister agency, CareerSource Tampa Bay, improperly boosted their job placement numbers by claiming credit for getting people hired they hadn’t assisted.
County Commissioner Pat Gerard, who is now on the board at CareerSource Pinellas, worries that residents have lost confidence in how the job center provides services for people looking for work.
"My intent is to ask Mr. Peachey to step down," Gerard said. "It’s a huge distraction."
Added commission chair Ken Welch: "There needs to be a change in the CEO. The change needs to happen at the top."
In a 20-minute discussion, the Pinellas County commissioners detailed how Peachey operates with minimal oversight from volunteer board members. Four of the seven commissioners have served on the jobs board in recent years.
They detailed how Peachey often makes major decisions without approval from his board of directors. They also said Peachey has refused to provide the county with spending information and frequently waits until the last minute to seek approval for requests.
"We’re being asked to approve items without being able to see (them)," commissioner Janet Long said. "The perception in the public is that we are in charge."
Each of Florida’s 24 CareerSource agencies, which receive millions of tax dollars a year to provide training and other employment services, is overseen by its own board of directors, made up of leaders from education, business, government and labor organizations. County commissioners must approve the board members and the agencies’ budgets. The boards of directors have the power to remove leaders, not the county commissioners.
The CareerSource Pinellas’ executive committee, a subset of the larger board, will hold an emergency meeting Wednesday to discuss Peachey, the president and CEO of both jobs centers.
Commissioner Charlie Justice said at Tuesday’s meeting that "it’s troubling" that Peachey had not publicly addressed questions about the job placements. Justice then pressed County Attorney Jewel White to explain what power the County Commission has over CareerSource. She startled several commissioners when noting that federal law makes the county "liable" for misspent tax dollars.
Commissioner Karen Seel said the jobs center does have some insurance to protect the county. White vowed to research the details.
Last week, Gov. Rick Scott called for local authorities to convene emergency board meetings and "consider appropriate disciplinary and administrative action" against CareerSource leaders. Currently, 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.
Additionally, House Speaker Richard Corcoran has ordered a state House committee to investigate. U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, called for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, to investigate because Florida received $286 million in federal workforce funds to operate the agencies in fiscal year 2017.
Meanwhile, Welch said it is crucial for the board of directors at the job centers in Pinellas and Hillsborough to intervene and restore integrity. Welch said he spoke to the governor’s office last weekend and agreed with Scott about the need for immediate changes.
"There is enough there that warrants a suspension," commissioner Dave Eggers said.