Alittle-known agency spending Pinellas County property tax dollars has finally agreed to comply with Florida's open government laws. But there's no reason to celebrate Pinellas Core Management Services' decision, effective this week. The agency contends it still doesn't need to disclose all its business dealings despite being the brainchild of the Juvenile Welfare Board.
The JWB is the longstanding public taxing authority that underwrites children's services in the county, including contracting with nonprofit groups that provide afterschool care, tutoring and counseling. Last year, JWB taxed properties to the tune of nearly $80 per $100,000 in assessed property value.
A couple of years ago the JWB decided it needed a middle man — an "administrative services organization" — to distribute the tax dollars to the smaller nonprofit groups, and assist the groups with record-keeping and personnel matters.
The result of this brainstorm was PCMS. It was set up as a private corporation, yet 90 percent of its revenue comes from JWB. It claims to be independent but it is inextricably tied to a public agency at every level. A JWB staffer, Paul Lackey, became its executive director.
PCMS contends that it is not required to operate openly because open government laws apply to corporations only if they are acting on behalf of a public body. PCMS's contention that it does not act on behalf of the JWB is ludicrous. The welfare board birthed the concept, provided the initial staffing and uses it to spend tax dollars.
Only after PCMS became the subject of several St. Petersburg Times news stories did its attorney issue an "exciting pronouncement" that PCMS would voluntarily abide by the Sunshine Law — but only in regard to its JWB work. It won't disclose its work funded by others.
With one foot in the sunshine and one foot in shadow, and with PCMS's continued protestations that it doesn't have to be open, Pinellas residents have no reason to feel comfortable about PCMS or its mission.