Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pinellas Juvenile Welfare Board kills off administrative agency

CLEARWATER — After months of frustration and embarrassment, Pinellas County's Juvenile Welfare Board on Thursday killed off an agency it created two years ago in hopes of stretching tax dollars and easing administrative headaches.

The agency was designed to help JWB-funded neighborhood groups keep their books straight. But instead it turned into a heavy-handed watchdog that shut down some grass-roots groups, threatened others and bred mistrust between the welfare board and the very people it relies on for programming.

"It would be wrong to say we were asleep at the switch,'' JWB executive director Gay Lancaster told her board of directors. "It would be right to say we had high expectations and certainly those expectations were not met.''

At issue is an agency called Pinellas Core Management Services (PCMS) and its relationship to family centers and churches that tutor and counsel children in some of the county's poorest neighborhoods.

While respected in the community, these small groups sometimes struggle with accounting and documentation. In one case, a group turned in ATM slips with hand-written notes about how the money was spent.

So in 2007, the JJWB told senior employee Paul Lackey to set up PCMS to take over bookkeeping, payroll, group insurance and other back-office functions for the neighborhood groups.

But the solution became the problem.

Lackey removed JWB funding from some neighborhood groups and threatened others without offering traditional corrective action plans. He was so late paying bills that some groups had their power temporarily shut off. He tried to operate outside Florida's Open Records Law and keep his records private. According to JWB staff, he would tell them one thing and his board of directors another.

Lancaster and her JWB staff were trying to correct some of these problems when an audit of PCMS released last week ended all further negotiation.

It showed that PCMS was worse at handling money and cash flow than many of the neighborhood groups it was supposed to supervise. Besides bounced checks and late bills, one employee ended up lending $35,000 to the agency at the end of the fiscal year, when books need to be balanced.

On Thursday, the JWB's board, composed of prominent public officials and gubernatorial appointees, voted to dismantle PCMS and have JWB staff take over its duties for the time being.

Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe and several other board members said they see this move as temporary until a new support agency can be set up. Otherwise, JWB will stray into a gray area of both funding programs and carrying out program duties.

"I'm afraid we are going to be right back in the position of this board dealing with these problems rather than dealing with them in the community,'' McCabe said.

In a side matter, Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch apologized to fellow JWB board members for not revealing that his wife, Donna, worked for Lackey and PCMS until the St. Petersburg Times disclosed it.

Her salary is paid by the Eckerd Family Foundation, which routes some of its funding for neighborhood groups through PCMS. She has a history of working with children in St. Petersburg's Childs Park neighborhood, Welch said, and Lackey told him there was no conflict.

Several board members and the board's attorney assured Welch they had no problems with the relationship.

The PCMS board will meet today to agree to dissolve, said its president, Elise Minkoff.

Unless Eckerd can quickly figure out a new way to route its money to neighborhood groups, that would mean that Donna Welch would work directly for JWB.

In that case, Ken Welch said, either his wife will quit her job or he will resign from the JWB board and the County Commission will have to appoint a new representative.

Pinellas Juvenile Welfare Board kills off administrative agency 04/10/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 10, 2009 7:47am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Spacewalking astronauts pull off urgent repairs at International Space Station (w/video)


    CAPE CANAVERAL — Spacewalking astronauts completed urgent repairs at the International Space Station on Tuesday, replacing equipment that failed three days earlier and restoring a backup for a vital data-relay system.

    In this NASA provided frame from video, NASA astronaut Jack Fischer works to install antennas at the International Space Station while astronaut Peggy Whitson, not pictured, works on repairs Tuesday, May 23, 2017. [NASA via AP]
  2. For starters: Rays vs. Angels, with Cobb leading the way


    Rays veteran RHP Alex Cobb had a lot to say Monday about the team needing to focus on getting past .500 and building a winning record.

    And after the disappointing 3-2 loss that …

    Alex Cobb will start tonight when the Rays play the Angels.
  3. Tampa murder suspect told police he wanted to stop neo-Nazi roommates from committing acts of domestic terrorism


    TAMPA — After he admitted to shooting two roommates and led police to their dead bodies, Devon Arthurs said he committed the killings to prevent the pair from carrying out terrorist acts, a prosecutor wrote in a court filing.

    Devon Arthurs, 18, told police  he shared neo-Nazi beliefs with his roommates, Jeremy Himmelman and Andrew Oneschuk, until he converted to Islam, according to a police report.
[Tampa Police]
  4. Pinellas School Board approves plan that aims to close achievement gap


    After months of behind-the-scenes negotiations, the Pinellas County School Board on Tuesday unanimously approved a plan that aims to tackle the achievement gap in 10 years and settles a long-running lawsuit over the education of …

    "I'm an optimist. I think this is going to work," Pinellas School Board member Linda Lerner said Tuesday after the board was presented with a plan that aims to settle a long-running lawsuit over the education of black students and close the achievement gap. The board voted 7-0 to approve the plan. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
  5. With big concerts approaching, Tampa Bay venues remain vigilant after Manchester attack

    Public Safety

    In the aftermath of an explosion that killed at least 22 people — including children — moments after a pop concert ended in England on Monday night, local venues assured the public that security will remain tight for Tampa Bay area's upcoming big-ticket shows.

    Fans cross Himes Avenue in Tampa toward Raymond James Stadium before the start of Beyonce's Formation World Tour in Tampa on April 29, 2016. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]