Thursday, June 21, 2018
Opinion

Daniel Ruth: Hillsborough's Children's Board operates like a horror movie

Intrigue! Cronyism! Duplicity! Retribution! A "contempt for integrity and ethics"! Vengeance! Falsified documents!

Holy cow, you'd think all of this would describe a Gadhafi family reunion.

But alas, no. We're talking about the Children's Board of Hillsborough County. The cockamamie Children's Board for crying out loud!

This doesn't sound like a social service agency. It's a sequel to Lord of the Flies.

Don't you imagine if you called something the Children's Board, why everything would be all Dr. Seuss, cutesy little bunny rabbits, Mr. Rogers videos and the playful sounds of kiddos at play?

Instead it's a bureaucratic sequel to Children of the Corn.

In reality the Children's Board of Hillsborough County receives $30 million in taxpayer money to help finance child welfare programs. Okay, fine. Fair enough. Reasonable enough.

The board gets the moola, evaluates and researches worthy recipients for funding, passes along the money and then makes sure everything is properly spent. How hard should this be? For adults?

But rather than simply function as an honest broker of social services for the boys and girls, the Children's Board somehow devolved into Hillsborough County's paper-pushing answer to Village of the Damned. This is not good.

Indications the Children's Board work environment was getting, well, sort of creepy began burbling up months ago when it was revealed chief executive officer Luanne Panacek had someone come into the offices after hours to spread around holy oil on the furniture.

It's probably just an inkling the organization has grown more dysfunctional than Game of Thrones, when you have to call in an exorcist.

Sheesh, this isn't a public agency. It's The Omen.

Later it was learned the Children's Board had handed out $450,000 in no-bid contracts. Put another way, it seems the agency had less oversight into its operations than the Afghanistan Treasury.

It's probably just a pinch of an iota of a smidgen of an inkling the management of the Children's Board is more clueless than Gomer Pyle contemplating the nuclear codes, when Panacek, who is paid $171,330 a year, admitted in a 2009 staff meeting: "If we don't understand what it is we're doing, how the hell are we going to make a decision about cuts? And that is why we can never make a damn decision in here. Because we can't clearly say what it is we're doing and what's making a difference."

Ahem. Perhaps a brief review is in order.

If Panacek, who has been at the helm of the Children's Board since Captain Kangaroo was a joey, has no idea what her agency is doing or accomplishing for a mere pittance of $171,330, then what does that say about pumping $30 million every year into a rudderless organization?

And what else it says isn't pretty. When Chris Brown, who chairs the agency board of directors, asked employees for their opinions about the Children's Board, he got an earful.

"Worthless empire," wrote one worker. "Morale is at an all-time low," offered another. And it kept coming with employees complaining of being shunned, pushed out of jobs and otherwise treated like serfs. And then there were the less positive views, too.

For asking workers their opinions, Brown was castigated by his fellow board members. Oh dear.

Sort of makes you wonder who are the real children in need here?

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