Tampa Bay CareerSource centers to formally split Saturday after months of controversy

Employment recruitment events are posted inside the lobby at a CareerSource Pinellas center in January. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
Employment recruitment events are posted inside the lobby at a CareerSource Pinellas center in January. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
Published August 31 2018

After working together for several years under one leader, the region’s two largest job placement centers will sever ties Saturday.

CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay in Hillsborough County shared staff and services in accounting, finance and human resources. Some employees also worked in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties to help people find jobs.

Starting Saturday, each agency will operate on its own.

The split comes after a Tampa Bay Times’ investigation raised questions about whether the centers inflated their hiring numbers. The U.S. Department of Labor and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity launched investigations, which are ongoing.

INVESTIGATION: CareerSource centers took credit for thousands of hires they had nothing to do with

READ MORE: Tampa Bay job centers gave away millions in gift cards and boosted hiring totals

MONEY: Payroll records show $3.1 million in bonuses, incentives at CareerSource centers

"Each board needs to get itself in order," CareerSource Pinellas board chair Jack Geller said. "Right now, it’s going to be easier to get us on the right track without having to worry about Hillsborough. We have enough issues to deal with."

He predicted the two offices could still have some holdover issues to sort through next week but neither will leave the other "out in the cold."

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman, the vice chair of the Tampa Bay board, pushed for the split the Times began publishing its investigation. She questioned whether the agency was properly spending millions of dollars it receives from the federal government.

"We just have to bring the attention home to us, to Hillsborough, and it will probably be a year or two to get our house focused in that direction," Murman said. "There’s going to be a stricter accountability of the dollars, and how they are applied to help people get jobs."

CareerSource Tampa Bay board members ultimately voted for the split, and leaders on both sides of the bay worked together to strip the interwoven operations.

To make the separation happen, 133 employees out of 212 between both agencies received layoff notices this summer from CareerSource Pinellas, the employer of record for both centers. The letters said Hillsborough workers would lose their jobs on Aug. 31.

As of Wednesday, CareerSource Tampa Bay had made 92 of 120 planned hires, according to Murman. It was not immediately clear how many laid-off staffers had been rehired.

"There’s only a few jobs remaining at this point to be filled," said Sean Butler, chair of CareerSource Tampa Bay.

Meanwhile, in Pinellas, interim director Jennifer Brackney said the jobs center will have 71 employees, after it rehired 13 people who received layoff notices earlier this year.

The local centers are part of a network of 24 CareerSource agencies across Florida. They are both publicly funded nonprofits overseen by separate boards, which include members from education, business, government and labor organizations.

Since January, CEO and president Edward Peachey was fired by both agencies, along with his top aide and several of her relatives. A number of board members were replaced, many of whom rarely attended meetings, and others who allowed Peachey to operate without oversight.

The Times found that the agencies claimed to have placed thousands of people into jobs who never sought their help. They paid out bonuses to staffers who recorded more placements and distributed millions of dollars in prepaid gift cards with little scrutiny of whether recipients needed the money. All the while, leaders bragged about their high job placement figures, becoming the darlings of the state job placement network.

BACKSTORY: Amid CareerSource controversy, allegations of a love affair, big raises and family favoritism at the top

Once each agency moves past the investigations and finds ways to improve, Geller said, it might make sense to again merge some operations — but in a much different way.

Murman said Peachey’s effect lingers.

"His influence on CareerSource because of the policies he put in place is going to be seen for, I think, some more time," she said. "I don’t think it’s ever going to be completely the end because people will remember, but I think it is a great first start."

Contact Mark Puente at [email protected], or (727) 892-2996. Contact Zachary T. Sampson at z[email protected] tampabay.com

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