Daniel Ruth

Cupcakes and cluelessness

You know you're dealing with a buffet line of freeloading Kato Kaelin types sitting around doing little more than pushing a bunch of paper when the Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance board spent more time shuffling napkins than job applications.

With a regional unemployment rate of 12.4 percent, you would think if you were a big shot sitting on something called a WorkForce Alliance board you would: A) burn the midnight oil to help find people … uh, work and/or B) look somewhat askance at blowing through nearly $100,000 in public money to stuff your pie hole with culinary delicacies like $50 cupcakes and $9-a-slice cheesecake while your primary constituency is contemplating Fancy Feast as a dinner option.

Kinda puts a whole new spin on the term fat cats, doesn't it?

And if this rubs you the wrong way, while the Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance board was busying itself doing the banquet scene from Tom Jones, the Pasco Hernando Workforce board was spending more than $6,000 of your money to pay for employee massages.

If these employees were so stressed out from having a job, imagine the tension of those without employment.

This is a bit like first-class passengers on the QE II tossing Life Saver mints to drowning refugees.

Once the creme brulee hit the fan after WFLA-Ch. 8's Steve Andrews exposed the publicly funded gluttony by the Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance board's clique of bureaucratic feedbags, everybody appropriately offered up a few well-timed harrumphs at the unseemliness of a gaggle of hotsy-tots treating their public roles as if they were at a Club Med retreat.

But this was hardly a case of one lone gourmand group of work force boards focusing their attention more on lunch menus than the resumes of prospective workers. As Andrews reported, of the state's 24 work force boards, some $617,000 was spent on grub and beverages from late 2008 through most of 2009.

Seconds, anyone?

Well, at least a bunch of caterers, massage therapists and chefs were kept pretty busy, not to mention Weight Watchers counselors!

And of course, Cyndi Ellzey found work, too, somehow miraculously landing the rub-a-dub-dub gig to massage the Pasco Hernando work force employees thanks, no doubt, to a sterling recommendation from her husband, Lee, who as fate would have it, just to happened to be the board's chief executive officer at the time.

Let this be a lesson to all you jobless folks out there. Never underestimate the value of networking when looking for a job.

Perhaps nothing typified the "let them eat coq au vin, not too spicy, not too rich" attitude toward their public responsibilities more than the Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance board's hiring of a comedian at $3,500 to yuk it up for an employee conference, presumably to help people find a job.

"Two out of work salesmen walk into a bar …" But seriously folks … budda-ump-bump.

In a circumlocutory tour de farce, Workforce Alliance president Renee Gilmore argued the comedian wasn't really a comedian but a "facilitator hired to inject humor" into a staff meeting. Baghdad Bob had more credibility.

Should Gilmore find herself a customer of the Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance, rather than its maitre d'/talent scout/cruise director/party planner and opening act, perhaps she might find gainful employment as a ghostwriter for double-talk impresario Professor Irwin Corey.

Here is what is mind-boggling about the Work Force Alliance board's ongoing Bacchus feast on the backs of the public and people desperate to end the nightmare of joblessness. No one in authority within these agencies preoccupied with their Farouk-esque appetites and laughing it up with cheesy comedians, or handing out pricey massages by the boss' wife, recognized the disconnect between their tony perks and their ultimate mission of helping people.

It never dawned on Gilmore or the Ellzeys or the rest of the boards' members all this lavish spending on vittles and chuckles looked bad, that they were coming off as dilettantes of the displaced?

All this "peel me a grape" extravagance still would be well on the way to its fifth course, were it not for the public exposure and subsequent outrage by various folks like state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who reacted as if he had just been served up a plate of shriveled peas.

Some money has been paid back. Some jobs, most notably Ellzey's, have been lost, although Gilmore is still taking reservations. And Fasano is promising to make changes to make sure the workforce boards are more responsible.

It is said that revenge is a dish best served up cold. So is accountability.

Cupcakes and cluelessness 01/28/10 [Last modified: Thursday, January 28, 2010 6:38pm]

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