TAMPA — The chairman of the Children's Board of Hillsborough County for the first time Thursday publicly expressed "concern, frustration and a lack of satisfaction" with chief executive officer Luanne Panacek.
"Do we have the right person in place?" Chairman Chris Brown asked at a meeting of the 10-member board that oversees the public agency.
Brown, whose comments came at the end of the meeting, did not say he wanted to take any action against Panacek, who plans to retire in November 2013.
Panacek, who earns $171,330 annually and oversees a staff about 55, sat silently beside him.
Brown, attorney for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, said Panacek had not provided satisfactory answers to a number of his questions, including ones about whether the agency had followed policy and whether it had properly handled the implementation of a new competitive process for nonprofit organizations applying for board money.
A series of recent Tampa Bay Times reports showed problems with how the agency had handled at least $450,000 in no-bid contracts, and representatives from social service agencies have complained about unfairness in the new grant system.
"There is so much room for improvement," Brown said.
Fellow board member Valerie Goddard jumped in, noting the board had just decided to pay for an audit of the agency's staffing and culture and would soon begin its search for a new chief executive officer anyway.
She called board dissension "counterproductive," saying members needed "to coalesce as a united board."
At the suggestion of another member, Brown agreed to bring up more specific concerns about Panacek at the next meeting.
On Thursday, the board agreed to pay up to $10,000 to Invictus Human Capital Management of Seffner to conduct the study of the Children's Board's staffing levels and culture, among other things.
The board also approved, in a 7-3 vote, a proposal to hire and keep on retainer a public relations firm to assist with public information requests and the media. The price tag is $10,000.
Dissenting votes were community activist Pete Edwards, Hillsborough schools superintendent MaryEllen Elia and Mike Carroll, Suncoast Regional director for the Department of Children & Families.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.