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State disallows another $40,000 in Workforce Alliance spending

TAMPA — The potential bill owed by the Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance keeps growing.

A $3,500 comedian and $2,280 worth of fleece blankets are partly to blame, according to new findings by the state.

Already this year, an Agency for Workforce Innovation review determined that the local workforce board must reimburse the government $34,000 for improper food spending.

The second phase of that review has turned up an additional $39,800 in disallowed costs. And agency inspector general James Mathews is questioning how tens of thousands more dollars were spent on promotional materials and events held to recognize area businesses.

The Workforce Alliance, a publicly funded job training center, has 20 working days to respond to the findings. A final investigative report will then be issued.

The alliance board is being asked to explain dozens of expenditures made between July 1, 2007, and Dec. 31, 2009.

For instance, Mathews is questioning the $39,589 in ballroom rental and food costs associated with two Business Excellence Awards events held at the InterContinental Hotel in Tampa.

The investigator said some of the costs associated with those events were not allowed, saying they were "not reasonable and necessary."

Those costs included $3,245 for chair wraps and table decorations, $989 on invitations, $1,150 for edible floral arrangements and $1,200 for a pianist and string quartet for the awards event held on June 10, 2008.

"Interview information indicated a desire on the part of Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance management to make the Business Excellence Awards events very elaborate," inspection documents stated.

Renee Benton Gilmore, the board's chief executive during that time, resigned in February after the inspector general's initial report found excessive spending on food.

Mathews also frowned upon a corporate gathering held March 14, 2008, at the Tampa Improv Comedy Club and Dinner Theatre. The $5,550 paid for tickets and food for 150 staff members was not allowed for a routine staff meeting, documents show.

A $3,200 motivational speaker and a $3,500 comedian hired for corporate meetings last year are among the disallowed costs. So is $2,280 spent on 200 embroidered fleece blankets distributed to employees at a January 2009 meeting.

Also subject to scrutiny are thousands of taxpayer dollars spent on 1,000 briefcases, 503 travel mugs and 1,000 pocket spray sanitizers featuring the workforce board's logo and website address.

Of the $394,000 in expenditures reviewed, Mathews said, $130,200 is not subject to repayment.

Once the investigation is closed, the workforce board will be required to find non-federal funds to repay the money it owes. Otherwise, Hillsborough County will be on the hook.

Ed Peachey, the Workforce Alliance's interim president, said he already stopped any plans for events or sponsorships. And new state rules prohibit using taxpayer money to buy food or beverages for board members and employees.

"That pretty much resolves most of our issues," he said.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

State disallows another $40,000 in Workforce Alliance spending 05/06/10 [Last modified: Thursday, May 6, 2010 1:07am]

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