TALLAHASSEE — Some Florida job-creation advocates are upset over a Senate proposal to intensify oversight of regional workforce boards following lavish spending on meals and insider dealing by a handful of boards.
Some workforce leaders accuse a key Tampa Bay senator of unfairly maligning a dedicated group of volunteers who try to match unemployed people with jobs in their communities. The criticism is squarely directed at Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who heads a budget committee that oversees workforce spending.
Fasano has proposed stricter supervision of the 24 workforce boards after revelations of free spending on meals and allegations of cronyism involving three boards in the Tampa Bay region.
The Tampa Bay board, which manages millions in federal job-creation stimulus money, spent money on expensive meals, hotels and a comedian that a state inspector report called "excessive" spending. The Polk County workforce board paid $452,000 for renovations on a pair of buildings to a firm owned by a board member.
Fasano's bill would ban spending public money for food and beverages, prohibit workforce boards from doing business with companies owned by board members, require locally elected workforce board chairs to be confirmed by the Senate, and require that full-time directors of workforce programs be approved by local elected officials. SB 1646 is expected to be approved today by the Senate Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations Committee.
Fasano said abuses by the Tampa Bay, Pasco-Hernando and Polk workforce boards make changes urgent, but others disagree.
"Unfortunately, some in leadership positions at the state level have taken the position that the behavior of three entities in and around the Tampa area is somehow indicative of all workforce boards around the state," wrote Gary Earl, chief executive of the Orlando-area Workforce Central Florida.
"I've got members that are ready to quit because of Sen. Fasano's quote that all local board members are 'servicing' their pocketbooks," wrote Richard Williams, executive director of the Chipola Regional Workforce Development Board in the Panhandle.
Williams noted, for example, that in Chipley, the sole electricity provider is a board member. "Must I purchase generators to provide electricity if the bill passes?" he asked.
Mary Lou Reed, executive director of the workforce board in Okaloosa and Walton counties, said Fasano's bill was "an assumption and an attack on all workforce board members based on the actions of a few misguided directors and board members."
Thomas "Rusty" Skinner Jr. of Ocala, president of the Florida Workforce Development Association, a statewide umbrella group, bristled at Fasano's recent comment that local workforce board members are "lining their pockets."
"Your comments have been very hurtful to the hundreds of private sector workforce board members across this state that serve for the betterment of their communities," Skinner told Fasano.
Another skeptic of Fasano's proposals is his House counterpart, Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City. He said a better system of "checks and balances" is needed to keep tabs on the workforce boards, but said of the Fasano proposal: "I think there's some overkill here."
Glorioso said he had concerns about a blanket prohibition on boards contracting with companies owned by board members, because in some rural areas, the largest local employer is a board member. "I don't want to tie their hands," Glorioso said.
"I think there's a middle ground we can reach which can add some checks and balances," Glorioso said. "I want them to know there's somebody watching them."
Steve Bousquet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-7263.