Troubled Pasco-Hernando jobs agency fires its CEO

NEW PORT RICHEY — This week, the embattled chief executive officer of the Pasco Hernando Jobs and Education Partnership sent an e-mail saying he'd consider resigning in return for a severance package.

But on Friday afternoon, the board of directors for the partnership didn't talk about Lee Ellzey's offer.

They voted to fire him.

"I don't think the board wanted to go there," board attorney Al Torrence, who received Ellzey's e-mail, said after the meeting.

Ellzey, who did not have a contract, did not attend Friday's meeting.

His firing resulted from a recent state Office of Inspector General report released earlier this month that raised accusations of financial mismanagement and conflicts of interest at the agency. The partnership offers programs to help people find work and receives federal funding to help businesses train their employees.

The report found, for instance, that the agency made unusually high in-house training reimbursements for two companies owned by then-Chairman Steven Jensen.

Pasco County commissioners removed Jensen, one of their appointees, from the board on Tuesday.

The agency's senior vice president, Terry Williams, resigned Wednesday.

The board had already suspended both him and Ellzey without pay, and had been scheduled to vote Friday on his firing as well.

The board of directors' decision followed the recommendation of its executive committee, which based Ellzey's dismissal on "the loss of faith in his ability to lead the organization."

The executive committee plans to pick out one or more interim leaders until it can hire a permanent executive director.

Pasco Commissioner Michael Cox said at the meeting that the agency needed to do a more extensive audit of its operations than a typical financial review.

He said he had received phone calls from former and current employees that there were some expensive features at the agency's Brooksville office, including a high-tech security system.

He had also heard complaints about the number of newspaper ads the agency had been running.

"Quite frankly, I think there are some luxuries going on here," he said.

Board member Mark Barry said if there had been a "culture of excess," he believes it's gone now.

"I feel pretty confident that the action we've taken will forever change the culture," he said.

The Inspector General investigation, triggered by a whistleblower complaint, is being reviewed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The report found that the agency had approved reimbursements for $123,000 in training sessions at two companies owned by Jensen, an amount that equated to $3,844 per hour for the instructor, who was also an employee at the company.

The checks never actually made it to the instructor.

Against the recommendations of his staff, Ellzey "pushed forward" the funding agreement, the report says.

Ellzey told the Times earlier this month that he approved the application based not on the per hour rate, but on the bottom line dollar amount, which "didn't raise a red flag."

He said the agency had made "a verbal commitment" to Jensen's companies to use the program, which has been used by other board members at their companies.

The report also outlined other concerns and said Williams "used his position to influence his subordinate to hire his father."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Troubled Pasco-Hernando jobs agency fires its CEO 06/26/09 [Last modified: Friday, June 26, 2009 9:05pm]

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