Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Regional jobs board suspends top executives

NEW PORT RICHEY — Lee Ellzey's first tweet of the day: "Satan charges hard. Don't let him win."

The statement, posted at 7:45 a.m. Thursday on Twitter, came a day after state investigators issued a report indicating that Ellzey, the president and chief operating officer of the regional workforce board, had paid an excessive amount of money for training at companies owned by his boss, board chairman and Pasco businessman Steve Jensen.

Members of the Pasco Hernando Jobs and Education Partnership Board responded swiftly. By Thursday afternoon, Ellzey and his senior vice president, Terry Williams, were suspended without pay pending further investigation.

The board also asked Jensen, a volunteer who was not at the meeting, to step down as chairman during the investigation. Board members asked the state Agency for Workforce Innovation to provide leadership until the matter is resolved and a new executive can be hired. Board members also agreed to reconsider the agency's business model, which gives the staff wide latitude in decision making.

"There's definitely going to be more oversight," said Michael Cox, a Pasco County commissioner and a workforce board member.

Cox opened the meeting by moving to suspend the regular agenda and "deal with the 800-pound gorilla in the room."

Three times he called on Ellzey to resign. Ellzey refused, saying the board didn't know the whole story.

The 48-page report by the state Office of Inspector General, which assisted the state Agency for Workforce Innovation, outlined several allegations. It said that Ellzey, the top employee of the workforce group that administers Career Central, had approved $123,000 in training costs for two companies owned by Jensen even though the staff had denied the application.

The rate comes out to about $3,844 an hour, which was "extraordinarily high and deviated from established practice," the report said.

The agency split the cost with Jensen's companies, paying $61,000. The checks, however, never went to the trainer, an in-house employee, the report said.

It also outlined other concerns and said Williams "used his position to influence his subordinate to hire his father." His father, who was receiving unemployment checks at the time, asked that paychecks be made out to his wife, the report said.

The workforce board is one of 24 in the state. It receives federal funding to help local businesses train their employees. It also provides programs to help people find jobs.

The board's audit and executive committees will together conduct their own investigation into the allegations. The report says officials at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement have also been briefed on the findings, and that agency is reviewing the matter.

Jensen, whose Port Richey companies Optima HVAC and Axon Technologies received the training at the heart of the controversy, could not be reached for comment Thursday. A man who answered the phone at one of his businesses said Jensen was out of town.

The report also mentioned two later applications for training at Jensen's companies. The trainer named on the application was Ralph Newman, who was listed as a consultant with Superior Training Consultants and Azaria Training Consultants.

But investigators said they couldn't find any record of those firms in state corporate records. Jensen told investigators Ralph Newman is the groundskeeper at his company.

The applications ended up being canceled and no public money was spent.

Board member Mark Barry, who moved to suspend the top executives and strip Jensen of his leadership role, praised the rank and file and said it was important to "avoid even the appearance of retribution" for the whistleblower and staffers who might be sympathetic.

Ellzey couldn't be reached immediately after the meeting. But at 3:46 p.m., the man who described himself in his Twitter profile as a "husband, father, Christian, Auburn grad, FSU fan" and basketball lover, left this tweet:

"I'm looking for what God really wants me to do."

Lisa Buie can be reached at or (813) 909-4604. Jodie Tillman can be reached at or (727) 869-6247.

Regional jobs board suspends top executives 06/11/09 [Last modified: Thursday, June 11, 2009 8:15pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Man found dead in Dunedin canal identified as missing 63-year-old

    Public Safety

    DUNEDIN — Pinellas County sheriff's deputies on Tuesday identified the man found floating in a Dunedin canal as the man who was reported missing last week.

    Charles P. Morris, 63, was found dead in a canal in Dunedin behind Cedar Creek Mobile Home Park, at 605 Michigan Blvd. around 3:48 p.m. Monday. He was reported missing June 21 after he was last seen leaving his home the night before to walk his dog. [ Courtesy of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
  2. A Time magazine with Trump on the cover hangs in his golf clubs. It's fake


    The framed copy of Time magazine was hung up in at least four of President Trump's golf clubs, from South Florida to Scotland. Filling the entire cover was a photo of Donald Trump.

    A framed copy of Time magazine, dated March 1, 2009, that hangs in at least four of President Donald Trump's golf clubs, from South Florida to Scotland, is fake. There was no March 1, 2009, issue of Time. The real March 2, 2009, issue of Time featured actor Kate Winslet on the cover. But the issue makes no mention of Trump. [Left, Time; right, Angel Valentin for the Washington Post]
  3. Editorial: The human cost of slashing Medicaid


    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had no choice Tuesday but to postpone voting this week on a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act that is just as devastating as the version passed by the House. The Congressional Budget Office's estimate that Senate bill would eliminate health care coverage for 22 million …

    Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press
  4. Vince Young takes shot at Bucs' Ryan Fitzpatrick


    Former NFL quarterback Vince Young, out of the league since 2011 and complaining about not getting more opportunities to prolong his career, took a shot at new Bucs backup Ryan Fitzpatrick in a story posted at …

    Veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who signed with the Bucs to be Jameis Winston's backup this fall, has played for six other NFL teams in his 12 seasons in the league.
  5. Editorial: Scott's poor choice for CFO


    Gov. Rick Scott didn't reach too deeply into Florida's talent pool in appointing his friend Jimmy Patronis to fill a vacancy as the state's new chief financial officer. This is an exceptionally weak choice for a Cabinet post that requires a sophisticated understanding of banking and other financial services, and it …