Pinellas consumers soon will be better protected from unscrupulous contractors after the Florida Legislature sent a bill to the governor Thursday that overhauls the county’s scandal-plagued construction licensing board.
Since it was created decades ago, the licensing board operated independently with no county government oversight. That lack of accountability allowed financial mismanagement, shoddy record-keeping, favoritism and inconsistent handling of complaints in an agency that is supposed to protect the public from shady roofers, carpenters and other contractors. The Tampa Bay Times’ Mark Puente uncovered the irregularities in a series of articles in 2016 and 2017. For example, Puente found at least seven times a licensing board member who was paid by unsatisfied homeowners to inspect work served on a panel that heard complaints against the contractors and sometimes voted on them.
The findings led to a grand jury investigation and the ouster of the board’s longtime executive director. But the most important change came as lawmakers passed legislation moving the licensing board under the County Commission’s control, adding term limits for board members and requiring audits and annual reports.
A change in law to restructure the board was the only adequate remedy. Now, with a level of oversight that should apply to any public agency, the licensing board can begin to earn back the trust of Pinellas consumers.