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CareerSource Pinellas board taps internal candidate as new CEO

Jennifer Brackney
Jennifer Brackney

CLEARWATER — Board members at an embattled Pinellas County job placement agency selected the interim leader to be the next CEO on Wednesday.

But the move at CareerSource Pinellas stoked turmoil.

The board of directors was slated to interview interim executive director Jennifer Brackney and Rocco Tricarico, an executive and attorney from Connecticut, for the job. Tricarico, however, upended the process when he withdrew his candidacy, leaving Brackney as the sole choice.

Earlier this month, the Tampa Bay Times reported the FBI was investigating CareerSource Pinellas over how it reported job placement figures. A letter from Tricarico to the board dated Tuesday cited ongoing federal and state investigations as part of the reason he decided to "pass on the opportunity."

The board then debated how to move forward. Some members said they would prefer to open a new search, but others said they wanted to interview Brackney and vote on whether to hire her.

The group struck a compromise to hire Brackney under a one-year contract. While several members praised her leadership, others called her defensive and said she lacked vision to reform the troubled center.

"I lead with heart," said Brackney, who acknowledged she could improve communication. "I lead with a lot of accountability. I'm transparent."

A compensation committee, consisting of board members, will negotiate Brackney's salary.

The office, along with its former sister job placement center, CareerSource Tampa Bay in Hillsborough County, came under scrutiny earlier this year following a series of Times reports showing both agencies took credit for placing people in jobs who hadn't sought their help. The agencies reported the inflated numbers to the state and paid out bonuses to employees who helped boost them.

The two agencies, part of a network of 24 CareerSource centers in Florida, separated last month. Each is searching for a new CEO after the man who led both operations, Edward Peachey, was ousted this spring.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is also conducting a review of the placement centers, even as the U.S. Department of Labor reviews state oversight. Investigators have expressed concern that the state did not have adequate controls to safeguard millions in federal funding.

During a nearly four-hour debate Wednesday, some board members said they wanted to weigh at least two candidates and expressed fear about news media scrutiny if they voted with only one finalist to consider. Several questioned why the agency didn't hire an outside recruiting firm.

Board member and businessman Scott Wagman questioned why any CEO would join the agency under the weight of investigations, adding: "It's a mess. Until this clears, I'm not sure there is a point to go forward."

Contact Mark Puente at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2996.

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