Nothing like a meal, a show and a joke to put the recession into perspective. Just ask the Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance, a taxpayer-funded nonprofit that has spent tens of thousands of dollars in recent years on food, entertainment — and even a comedian — to pacify the staff.
WFLA-Ch. 8, which broke the story, reported this week that the alliance spent $3,500 in May on "corporate comedian" David Glickman. Previously, the station reported the agency had spent nearly $40,000 between 2008 and 2009 on catered meetings, entertainment and conferences. Nearly all of the agency's $33-million annual budget is covered by state and federal tax dollars.
Workforce president Renee Gilmore said the agency did not hire a comedian but rather "a facilitator to inject humor" into a staff meeting. That clarification captures the problem perfectly.
Glickman's spiel covered the $5 million in federal stimulus money the agency was awarded (stop!), the health care market (please!) and skills involved with spreadsheets (you're killing me!). His hiring was a senseless waste of money. It makes the earlier-reported expenses of $9 slices of cheesecake seem frugal by comparison.
Talk about a perversion of public interest. Tampa Bay's unemployment rate sits at 12.3 percent, above the state and national average. But the agency charged with helping Hillsborough County residents find jobs is now rationalizing hiring a joker. And the St. Petersburg Times reported Thursday that the Pasco Hernando workforce board used $6,000 in state funding to pay for employee massages.
The governing boards for these alliances need to answer for this utter lack of accountability. The Tampa agency has changed its policies to prohibit meals at most staff meetings, and the Pasco Hernando board moved to repay the tax money for the massages.
But why did it take embarrassing disclosures to force these boards to fulfill their oversight roles? The governor and Legislature, to whom these boards ultimately answer, need to take a hard look at how these agencies and their boards are functioning. There is a slush-fund mentality here that needs to change.