Editorial: Changing the CareerSource Pinellas culture

Published February 6 2018
Updated February 6 2018

The Pinellas County Commission sent a clear message Tuesday by removing the board chairman of the troubled CareerSource Pinellas and signaling there has to be a culture change regarding government accountability. Residents appointed to boards overseeing public responsibilities too often become obedient servants to the entrenched bureaucrats they are supposed to oversee. These board members are serving their fellow residents, and they have an obligation to help ensure public money is prudently spent.

The commissioners voted unanimously to remove Aundre Green from the CareerSource board after Green demonstrated he failed to grasp the seriousness of the concerns about mismanagement. CareerSource spends millions in public money to provide training and match workers with jobs, and the Tampa Bay Times’ Mark Puente has reported evidence that suggests the numbers the agency has reported to the state may be padded. Those revelations have triggered multiple federal and state investigations.

Yet last week Green and other members of a CareerSource board committee refused to suspend the agency’s longtime president and CEO, Ed Peachey. When Pinellas Commissioner Pat Gerard, a member of the committee, moved to take action against Peachey, Green cut her off and refused to consider her request. Green’s first loyalty apparently was to Peachey rather than to taxpayers, and he only moved to unilaterally suspend Peachey with pay the following day after county commissioners expressed their unhappiness.

Gerard said Tuesday she has concerns about the CareerSource board’s independence, and commission chair Ken Welch expressed his frustrations with other actions by the board and the agency’s attorney. Commissioner Janet Long’s suggestion that other board members who refused to remove Peachey also be replaced did not get traction, but at least they are on notice that the commissioners expect more due diligence. The board members can start by squashing Peachey’s absurd application to open a charter school in the outdated Pinellas science center where CareerSource is located. With Peachey suspended and so many investigations and questions about the agency’s ability to meet its primary mission of matching workers with jobs, CareerSource is hardly prepared to take on new responsibilities.

Commissioners praised Green’s successor as chair of the CareerSource board, Jack Geller. But Geller did not distinguish himself at Tuesday’s commission meeting. He defended Green and complained about open government laws that prevent two members of the same panel from discussing public business in private. "I hate the Sunshine Law,’’ Geller told commissioners.

That does not build public confidence in a troubled agency that would benefit from more transparency. Perhaps Geller and his colleagues at CareerSource need a refresher course on the importance of government-in-the-sunshine. It will take more openness and accountability to clean up the mess they helped create by failing to provide enough oversight over Peachey and his pals.