Tampa Bay Partnership urges study of regional workforce board in wake of CareerSource scandals

The executive committee at CareerSource Pinellas meets in December 2017 in Clearwater. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]
The executive committee at CareerSource Pinellas meets in December 2017 in Clearwater. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
Published July 9, 2018

TAMPA — With a split looming between CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay, the jointly run workforce development agencies for the bay area, a third economic development group is weighing in to say, not so fast.

For years, the two workforce investment boards have had separate boards but shared a chief executive officer, Edward Peachey, who was ousted by both boards after a series of Tampa Bay Times disclosures this year about the agencies' performance, record-keeping and internal operations.

BACKGROUND: CareerSource centers took credit for thousands of hires they had nothing to do with

MORE: Tampa Bay jobs centers entered thousands of fictitious phone numbers in state network

MORE: Amid CareerSource controversy, allegations of a love affair, big raises and family favoritism at the top

Then in May, after months of controversy, the executive committee of CareerSource Tampa Bay, which covers Hillsborough County, decided to cut its ties with the Pinellas board effective July 1.

Now the nonprofit Tampa Bay Partnership, a multi-county business advocacy group with a growing focus on developing a deeper and more talented labor pool for the bay area, has urged county commissioners on both sides of the bay to think regional, not local.

Having two separate boards for Pinellas and Hillsborough could cost an estimated $1 million to $2.5 million more per year than having a consolidated regional board, according to a report that the partnership commissioned in April. That's because two completely independent county-based agencies would each likely hire their own CEOs, chief financial officers and directors for business services, projects, and human resources and other programs.

"This would be self-inflicted damage when we should be turning the other direction," partnership president and CEO Rick Homans said this week.

In contrast, a consolidated two-county workforce board would not only be more efficient, but would better serve both job-seekers and employers than two boards working in their own silos, MGT Consulting Group of Tallahassee concluded in a 26-page report to the partnership.

"Our economy is regional, and so is our workforce," Homans said. "Nearly 20 percent of Tampa Bay workers already cross county lines to get to their jobs each day."

MGT's report said a regional board also would better align with state and federal policy and be more consistent with what's done in other Florida metros. Eighteen of 24 workforce boards in Florida, including those in Miami, Orlando and Jacksonville, cover more than one county.

"These workforce boards manage tens of millions of dollars in federal resources designated for our community," partnership chairwoman Rhea Law said in a statement released with the report. "It's critical that they are aligned with the regional labor market and operate in the most efficient manner possible."

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The partnership is urging Hillsborough and Pinellas county commissioners to consider a two-step process: First, fix their own boards. Then, name a task force with public, private and nonprofit members to recommend a structure for going forward.

"We think it's imperative that both organizations extricate themselves from the mess that exists and work out their internal financial issues, straighten out their balance sheets and clean house," Homans said. "But what we're encouraging is that while they're taking these short-term steps they initiate a process that would look over a 12-month period at the best structure for the long term."

That could include continuing the current set-up, with separate governing boards but some administrative overlap, separating the two into completely independent boards or creating a single, regional board for both Pinellas and Hillsborough.

The partnership's focus on the issue lines up with a major initiative it has launched over the past year: to scrutinize whether the bay area is producing the skilled workers it needs to drive future growth and to look for ways to build up weak spots in its pool of talent.

TIMES COLUMNIST BOB TRIGAUX: At last, Tampa Bay embraces one set of indicators to gauge its future course

RELATED: JPMorgan & Chase invests $300,000 to Tampa Bay Partnership's skills development initiative

The MGT report, however, does not directly discuss one problem outlined this spring by the Times: chronic board member absenteeism that did little to help the two CareerSource boards head off the problems that have now triggered state and federal investigations.

RELATED STORY: They were supposed to watch over CareerSource. Many didn't show up.

Dozens of board members missed at least half of their CareerSource Pinellas or CareerSource Tampa Bay meetings since 2014, according to a Times analysis of agency records, and several never showed up at all.

Homans, who represented his previous employer, the nonprofit Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., had a record of four meetings attended, four missed and two attended by telephone during his two years on the board of CareerSource Tampa Bay.

At the time, he said, "the board meetings not substantive in terms of higher level strategy and thoughtful discussions about where we were headed," so he started two initiatives to work "around the edges" with CareerSource.

One was to bring two CareerSource employees to the EDC's meetings with Hillsborough companies to present a more full picture of what programs the two organizations had to offer local business. The other was to work with representatives of CareerSource, Pinellas County Economic Development, the Tampa Bay Technology Forum and the Tampa Bay Partnership to identify talent gaps in information technology. That led to similar efforts, he said, in manufacturing and financing services.

Now, Homans says, creating a regional workforce board could draw in more qualified, more ambitious and more engaged board members, leading to better oversight.

"Clearly there was a dysfunctional and inefficient operation," Homans said. "I think what we're all focused on now is, let's look to the future, learn from the mistakes and make sure we turn this challenge into an opportunity to set this up the right way."

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Times staff writer Zachary T. Sampson contributed to this report. Contact >Richard Danielson