Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Move to punish Hillsborough Children's Board leader for 'holy oil' fails

TAMPA — For nearly a half hour Thursday, directors of the Children's Board of Hillsborough County spoke about what happened one Sunday in January — without saying what happened.

They approved a new security policy requiring after-hours visitors to be accompanied at all times by employees. They talked about a log for after-hours visitors. They discussed a policy requiring the agency head to contact them when police are called to the building.

Finally, board member Pete Edwards pierced the veil of vagueness. He wanted to talk about the holy oil — and he had a serious reprimand in mind for the board's chief executive officer, Luanne Panacek.

"There's so much uncleanness to this incident," said Edwards, a Tampa community activist. Panacek shifted in her seat and started drinking bottled water.

It was Panacek, the longtime top administrator, who in January took a devout Christian friend into the public agency's Palm Avenue building on a Sunday.

While Panacek worked at her desk, her friend blessed the building by spreading "holy oil," most likely olive oil. She left a sheen of it on desks and doors.

Employees reporting for duty the following Monday panicked, thinking someone had spread a chemical. They called Tampa police.

Then an employee reviewed surveillance video, which showed Panacek and the woman entering the building. Panacek told her staff, but not the entire board of directors, what had happened.

After the Tampa Bay Times learned last month of the incident, Panacek said she allowed the blessing after a "meeting from hell." At that January meeting, she said, Edwards had peppered her with unfair questions.

Edwards was furious when he learned about the incident from a reporter last month, saying Panacek made him out to be a "demon."

On Thursday, he said Panacek's decision put the agency at risk of liability by allowing someone to wander the building. He said a lower-ranking employee would have been fired for such a move.

"It has caused me to have no confidence in the CEO whatsoever," he said.

Edwards made a motion to put Panacek, who earns $171,329 a year, on a 30-day unpaid suspension followed by a 90-day probation. The motion didn't get a second.

He also demanded the identity of Panacek's friend. Board staff said the video was deleted by the time the incident became public.

No other board member demanded disclosure of the friend's name. And Panacek would not reveal it. But she had someone read aloud a letter she said was from the woman.

In that letter, the woman, who calls Panacek a "colleague," said the holy oil "was not used as some type of 'miracle potion' … but it simply represents a symbol of a belief and trust in what Jesus has promised for the individuals that work at the Children's Board."

Panacek, who grew up in the Lutheran church, also spoke. She said she intended the prayer to be a private event. She said she had been trying to meet with Edwards since January but could never do so. She asked who told him she'd implied he was a demon.

Edwards wasn't answering questions at that point. He said he'd have no more one-on-one conversations because he didn't trust Panacek.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who sits on the board, said he had heard concerns from constituents about whether Panacek's actions had mixed religion and government. He questioned whether workers finding holy oil on their desks was "really a private matter."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374.


About the board

The Children's Board of Hillsborough County, which has 56 full-time employees, was created by county taxpayers two decades ago to be the leading advocate for children. The 10-member board of directors includes gubernatorial appointees, a judge and representatives from the county and school district. It received $30 million this year to finance nonprofit social service agencies that help children. It levies a property tax rate of 50 cents for every $1,000 of taxable assessed value, about $42 a year for a homestead with a taxable value of $95,000.

Move to punish Hillsborough Children's Board leader for 'holy oil' fails 03/22/12 [Last modified: Friday, March 23, 2012 12:48am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Review: Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald team up to cool down the Clearwater Jazz Holiday


    A cool breeze swept through Coachman Park Saturday night. Couple of them, actually.

    Kenny Loggins performed at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday on Oct. 21, 2017.
  2. No. 16 USF hangs on at Tulane, off to first 7-0 start


    NEW ORLEANS — After half a season of mismatches, USF found itself in a grudge match Saturday night.

    USF quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) runs for a touchdown against Tulane during the first half of an NCAA college football game in New Orleans, La., Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Derick E. Hingle) LADH103
  3. Lightning buries Penguins (w/video)

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Ryan Callahan spent a lot of time last season rehabilitating his injured hip alongside Steven Stamkos, who was rehabbing a knee after season-ending surgery. During those hours, Callahan noticed two things about Stamkos: his hunger and his excitement to return this season.

    Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek (29) advances the puck through the neutral zone during the first period of Saturday???‚??„?s (10/21/17) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  4. Spain planning to strip Catalonia of its autonomy


    BARCELONA, Spain — The escalating confrontation over Catalonia's independence drive took its most serious turn Saturday as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain announced he would remove the leadership of the restive region and initiate a process of direct rule by the central government in Madrid.

    Demonstrators in Barcelona protest the decision to take control of Catalonia to derail the independence movement.
  5. Funeral held for soldier at center of political war of words (w/video)


    COOPER CITY — Mourners remembered not only a U.S. soldier whose combat death in Africa led to a political fight between President Donald Trump and a Florida congresswoman but his three comrades who died with him.

    The casket of Sgt. La David T. Johnson of Miami Gardens, who was killed in an ambush in Niger. is wheeled out after a viewing at the Christ The Rock Church, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017  in Cooper City, Fla. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald via AP) FLMIH102