Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Federal agency investigates WorkNet Pinellas as worker fired for using nonprofit's resources for political campaign

CLEARWATER — The U.S. Department of Labor has launched an investigation of WorkNet Pinellas and the use of youths in a stimulus-funded program to collect petitions for a County Commission candidate.

The St. Petersburg Times reported that students participating in the nonprofit work force agency's YouthBuild program collected petitions March 9 to get Republican Beverley Billiris, the former mayor of Tarpon Springs, on the August ballot.

The YouthBuild program director who organized the activity, Robyn Poppick, has been fired, said Billiris and the incumbent she wants to oust, County Commissioner Susan Latvala.

WorkNet received $700,000 in stimulus money last year from the Labor Department for YouthBuild, which helps young people age 16 to 24 learn job and life skills, and get diplomas and GEDs.

"We are going to investigate this and take action. This is not an appropriate use of Recovery Act funds," said a statement from the agency.

Spokesman Michael Wald declined Tuesday to discuss what action the agency could take because it's an ongoing investigation. Stimulus money is not to be used for political purposes. Moreover, WorkNet is a nonprofit, which the IRS generally bars from supporting specific candidates.

WorkNet Pinellas is due to receive $400,000 more in stimulus money for 2010 if it meets the standards of the federal agency.

WorkNet president Ed Peachey and public relations director Bill Griffiths did not return multiple calls seeking comment.

The youths, students at Pinellas Technical Education Center, sought petitions for Billiris but ran into Latvala's ex-husband and campaign supporter Jack and his son Chris at an Oldsmar polling place.

Andrea Zahn, a spokeswoman for Pinellas County schools, said Tuesday that the students left the center without coordinating with their instructors. The center did not approve of them leaving, and the district will now make sure students won't be taken out of class for activities unrelated to schoolwork, she said.

Poppick, who gave $50 to Billiris' campaign in December, did not return a message seeking comment. She previously said the activity was part of a "civics lesson" and she had received approval from national YouthBuild officials, but not WorkNet officials above her. Peachey last week called the petition gathering inappropriate.

"It was said that this would cost her her job," said Billiris, adding that Poppick had assured her the activity had been approved.

While Billiris downplayed the implications of the petition gathering, Susan Latvala said it was significant. "Everybody knows that you don't mix politics and government," she said.

Poppick, a Democrat from Palm Harbor, joined WorkNet in April after working in contract management in health care and the state's Department of Family and Children, according to her resume.

She was among people suggested by County Commissioner Neil Brickfield for this year's county charter review board, but ultimately was not selected.

Brickfield, who sits on the WorkNet board and met Poppick through speaking to her classes and attending the same book club, called the petition effort an unfortunate occurrence.

Brickfield declined to say whether Poppick acted appropriately, waiting until today's WorkNet board meeting to hear more.

"From what I understand, this was about the education of young people on civics, and they really learned a lesson in hardball politics."

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8779.

Federal agency investigates WorkNet Pinellas as worker fired for using nonprofit's resources for political campaign 03/16/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 16, 2010 9:55pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Review / photos: Sunset Music Festival brings Major Lazer, safety upgrades to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa

    Blogs

    Somewhere beyond the barricades and mountainous LED stages of the Sunset Music Festival, there had to be worry. There had to thousands of parents in parking lots and empty kitchens, anxiously distracting their minds, every now and then checking their phones.

    Major Lazer headlined the Sunset Music Festival on May 27, 2017 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
  2. 24-year-old man charged with murder in shooting at Andrea Cove Motel

    LARGO — Pinellas sheriff's officers arrested a 24-year-old transient man Saturday in connection with a homicide at the Andrea Cove Motel in unincorporated Largo.

  3. Photo gallery: Calvary Christian rolls to state title

    Blogs

    View a gallery of images from Calvary Christian's defeat of Pensacola Catholic 11-1 in six innings Saturday night at Hammond Stadium in Ft. Myers for the Class 4A title.

    Calvary Christian players circle up on the field before the FHSAA class 4A baseball championship against Pensacola Catholic on Friday May 27, 2017 at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Fla. Calvary scored 6 runs in the first inning, and had 7 hits.
  4. Two girls found safe after being reported missing in New Port Richey

    UPDATE: Both girls were found safe Saturday night, police said.

  5. IT failure blamed for British Airways cancellations (w/video)

    Airlines

    LONDON — British Airways canceled all flights from London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports on Saturday as a global IT failure upended the travel plans of tens of thousands of people on a busy U.K. holiday weekend.

    Passengers wait at a British Airways check-in desk after the airport suffered an IT systems failure Saturday at London''s Gatwick Airport. [Associated Press]