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Hold the holy oil: Iorio to straighten out Children's Board

Your kids just overturned the couch, tore the stuffing out of the Barcalounger and are about to set the drapes on fire. But wait — Supernanny is at the door to save the day (or at least the curtains.)

That's the latest twist in the tale of the Children's Board of Hillsborough County. Place in chaos? Call in Tampa's no-nonsense former mayor, Pam Iorio.

Okay, so nothing at the largely taxpayer-funded agency — created for the important purpose of addressing the county's child welfare needs — is actually aflame. But the news has not been good.

It started with a wacky story of how employees arrived at work to find a strange sticky substance spread around, got worried given the state of the world and called police. Turned out executive director Luanne Panacek had brought in a pal over the weekend to pray, bless the (by the way, public) building and spread holy oil after what she called a "meeting from hell."

Panacek told a reporter that it was only "a teensy-eensy little vial" of oil and also that she thought "most people here are Christian."

And yes, you could say Panacek is the anti-Pam.

Things went south. Turns out most folks whose tax dollars fund the Children's Board had not a clue what it did, not a good face for a public agency. A series of sobering stories by the Times' Jodie Tillman detailed complaints that it had morphed beyond its purpose into an empire and had awarded nearly $500,000 in no-bid contracts to people with connections to the board. Then a study found the place in crisis, with most employees believing the bosses lack integrity and ethics.

The bad news kept coming. Finally, at the behest of the board chairman, enter Practical Pam. And forgive the familiarity, but she is very much a Pam, two steady, sturdy consonants and a single serviceable vowel, a name to get the job done.

Around here, when politics and public positions spin embarrassingly out of control even by lax Tampa standards, this is how we do it. Once upon a time it was former state Supreme Court justice and county administrator Fred Karl we called to right a listing ship. Notably, he has been one of Iorio's trusted advisers. Hey, we do pass down local tradition beyond too much grog at Gasparilla.

Post-mayorhood, Iorio has written a book on leadership. She speaks on the subject and is currently contemplating a book on compromise (though she may have to translate that foreign phrase, given the current state of politics in America). She remains a rumored contender for governor, if ever a ship needed righting, and I do not let a conversation pass without asking. (She told me she has no plans to run for anything — but remember, she wasn't running for mayor, until she decided, and suddenly she was.)

Panacek agreed this week to step down. Iorio says she'll do an interim six months until a permanent leader is found. Prudent Pam, she declines to assess blame: "It needs a fresh set of eyes," she says, "and a different leadership style."

Couldn't get much more different, and just in time: The property tax that finances the Children's Board must be reauthorized by voters in four years, time enough to restore confidence and, politics and theater aside, get kids services they need.

Says the ex-mayor tapped to save the day, or at least this important agency: "I'll give it a shot."

Hold the holy oil: Iorio to straighten out Children's Board 07/24/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 9:09pm]
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