Board of Pasco Hernando work force agency backs chairman after e-mail attack

NEW PORT RICHEY — The head of the Pasco Hernando work force board offered to resign Thursday after an anonymous e-mail questioned his ethics and criticized other board practices.

Ed Blommel, a retired executive from Tampa Electric Co., called the e-mail "shocking, disturbing and personal."

"Ed Blommel is truly the person behind (former president) Lee Ellzey getting fired but his hands were/are just as dirty," the writer said in an e-mail sent to state Sen. Mike Fasano, Gov. Charlie Crist and the St. Petersburg Times.

Ellzey was fired last year after a whistle-blower's complaint prompted a state investigation that revealed financial mismanagement of a program that provides federal dollars to help businesses train their employees. That led to the arrest Thursday of two employees of a private company that applied for the grants. That company is owned by former work force board chairman Steve Jensen, who resigned when the report came out last year. Blommel replaced him and promised transparency.

At the board's regular meeting Thursday, Blommel read the e-mail and gave his fellow members an ultimatum: either accept his resignation or give him a vote of confidence.

Board members unanimously affirmed their support for his leadership.

"I have nothing but the utmost confidence," said board member and Pasco County Commissioner Michael Cox, who joined the board "when everything blew up." He credited Blommel with providing a steady hand during a tumultuous time and praised new president Jerome Salatino for taking the agency in a positive direction.

The Pasco Hernando Jobs and Education Partnership runs one-stop job centers, called Career Central, and provides programs to help businesses train their workers. When the economy collapsed, the agency saw its $6 million budget soar to $13 million as the federal government granted stimulus money to help people find work or train for new careers.

The anonymous e-mail leveled other criticisms against the agency. One example was that board member Don Burgher, who works for an insurance company in Hernando County, provides health insurance to board employees in a contract that was not bid.

Salatino said that he looked into the matter and though no bids were solicited, quotes were gathered. He said he will solicit bids when the contract expires, but he won't end it now because to do so would leave staffers without health insurance.

Cox said he thinks board members should be prohibited in the future from bidding for contracts. Cox, who works for Morgan Stanley, said it would be wrong for his company to make a bid to sell county bonds. The work force board should be governed the same way, he said.

"You can do business with this board or be on this board, but I don't think you can do both," he said.

Burgher was not at Thursday's meeting.

The e-mail also claimed that some board members' businesses had obtained government money for jobs that was being funneled through the work force board.

But members defended the practice, saying the money created or saved jobs.

"I am not going to apologize for trying to get six people back to work," said Blommel, referring to East Pasco Habitat for Humanity, which received some money and on whose board he also serves.

Board members overall expressed some anger at whoever sent the e-mail, calling the person disgruntled at the way the agency was headed. They also noted the agency has been audited and monitored by the state, and has cleaned up any problems, including repaying the state for money spent on employee massages given by Ellzey's wife during his tenure.

"I don't think we have anything to apologize for," board member Emile Laurino said.

Lisa Buie can be reached at buie@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4604.

Board of Pasco Hernando work force agency backs chairman after e-mail attack 03/18/10 [Last modified: Thursday, March 18, 2010 9:19pm]

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