The chairman of CareerSource Pinellas announced he was suspending embattled jobs chief Edward Peachey on Thursday until a review panel determines whether the agency has been inflating its success at helping people find work.
In Hillsborough County, commissioners urged CareerSource Tampa Bay board members to suspend him as the head of that office as well when they meet today.
The moves came the same day as Florida's two U.S. senators added their names to the growing list of leaders calling for a wholesale examination of the CareerSource books.
Doubts about the centers' performance have snowballed in the last week, quickly turning into a series of local, state and federal inquiries. Investigators are trying to determine whether the CareerSource agencies overstated their job placement numbers by reporting they helped put people to work who never sought their assistance. Also in question is whether the centers earned state incentive money based on exaggerated placement numbers.
Aundre Green, chairman of the CareerSource Pinellas board, suspended Peachey with pay on Thursday, just a day after he blocked a proposal by Pinellas County Commissioner and CareerSource board member Pat Gerard to do the same.
Gerard had countered by saying she would seek Green's removal from the board, a move two other county commissioners signaled they would support.
"Upon further reflection and in light of comments made yesterday at the meeting," Green wrote in his letter to CareerSource board members Thursday. " ... I have reconsidered and determined to suspend the CEO with pay."
It was unclear Thursday if Green had the authority to unilaterally suspend Peachey. CareerSource attorney Charles Harris did not respond to a request for comment.
Green announced the appointment of Jennifer Brackney, an employee who worked for years at a similar agency in Peoria, Ill., to serve as interim director. She has worked in the local CareerSource agencies since February 2015 and made $111,000 last year, according to payroll records.
"I'm glad (Green) decided to do the right thing," Gerard said Thursday afternoon.
Two board members who argued against suspending Peachey on Wednesday, Tom Bedwell and Mike Mikurak, said Green's reversal surprised them. Both declined Thursday to comment until learning more details.
Earlier Thursday, Hillsborough County Commissioners asked the CareerSource Tampa Bay board to go a step further than Pinellas and suspend Peachey without pay.
"If the allegations are true it very much violates the public trust," said Hillsborough Commissioner Pat Kemp. "It's very, very disappointing to see."
Sandy Murman, the commission's representative on the CareerSource Tampa Bay board, will now push to remove Peachey during its executive meeting Friday afternoon.
"If there's an investigation going on, you cannot have the fox in the hen house," she said.
The commissioners said Peachey has not been forthright in communication since the controversy began more than a week ago. He did not return a request for comment for this story. Payroll records show he earned about $291,000 in 2016.
"My concern is we're paying him when it's quite obvious there's some really serious wrongdoings there," said Commissioner Les Miller.
Each CareerSource office is overseen by its own board of directors, whose members come from the fields of education, business, and government, and from labor organizations. County commissioners must approve the board members and the agencies' budgets. But only the agencies' boards of directors, not the county commission, has the power to remove their leaders.
While the Hillsborough commissioners were meeting Thursday, U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio jointly issued a bipartisan letter requesting a federal Department of Labor investigation. Both CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay receive funding through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. The Labor Department should therefore assist in the investigations to determine "whether federal taxpayer dollars were misused," the senators wrote.
"Your Department should ensure there are sufficient practices in place to deter fraud and abuse," the senators urged Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta.
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity launched the first inquiry after the Tampa Bay Times asked about the agencies' job placement figures. CareerSource had claimed in state reports to have helped find jobs for people who told the Times that they got no assistance from the agency. Several employers also said CareerSource routinely asked them to provide complete hiring lists of all employees — even those who had not used the job placement centers.
Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, for instance, ended his department's contract with CareerSource last month. He said he could find no evidence that the jobs agency played a role in any of the 624 employees it claimed to have helped place with the Sheriff's Office since 2014.
Peachey has for years been celebrated for the high job placement figures that are now in question. Of the 24 CareerSource agencies in Florida, the Tampa Bay and Pinellas offices have regularly ranked at the top for finding people work.
Murman, the Hillsborough commissioner, said she has served on the CareerSource Tampa Bay board for years and the meetings have always been rubber-stamp sessions with few challenges.
"The board meetings are not in-depth like you would think of a board meeting, and that's a problem," she said. "The oversight and accountability, it's just, I mean, it's nowhere to be found."
The board chair of CareerSource Pinellas says he has placed the embattled head of the agency on paid suspension while a committee investigates whether it inflated job placement numbers reported to the state.
Board chair Aundre Green announced the suspension of president and CEO Edward Peachey at 1 p.m. Thursday
The move came a day after Green blocked Commissioner Pat Gerard, a member of the CareerSource board, from asking the agency's executive committee to suspend Peachey. Gerard, the vice chair of CareerSource Pinellas, had subsequently requested that the County Commission vote at its Feb. 6 meeting to remove Green from the board of directors at the jobs center.
Green would not explain how he has the authority to make the decision unilaterally.
"Upon further reflection and in light of comments made yesterday at the meeting by Commissioner Gerard and Jack Geller," Green wrote in the letter, "I have reconsidered and determined to suspend the CEO with pay until the Ad Hoc committee completes its investigation and recommends any necessary and appropriate disciplinary action."
He appointed Jennifer Brackney, an employee who worked for years at a similar agency in Peoria, Ill., to serve as interim director.
Peachey, who also heads CareerSource Tampa Bay in Hillsborough County, has come under scrutiny for how the agencies report job placements to the state.
Investigators from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity are trying to determine whether the two jobs centers inflated their job placement numbers under his watch. The investigators are also trying to determine whether the centers — which receive millions in federal dollars each year to help train people and find them jobs — also received state incentive money for the exaggerated numbers.
The investigations were touched off by questions from the Tampa Bay Times, which found that Career Source had claimed in state reports that it helped find jobs for people who say they got no assistance from the agency. Several employers have also told the Times that CareerSource routinely asked them to provide complete hiring lists of all employees — even those who had not used the job placement centers.
In response, Gov. Rick Scott urged the board to "consider appropriate disciplinary and administrative action" and to "review all leadership" at the jobs centers.
Green called an emergency meeting of the CareerSource executive committee on Wednesday to address the allegations. The executive panel voted 7-3 to create the ad-hoc committee to review how the agency reports job placements.
In a letter afterward to county commissioners calling for Green's removed from the CareerSource Pinellas board, Gerard's said she was "deeply concerned" the committee "is not sufficiently independent to conduct a meaningful, objective review of the reported allegations. Two other commissioners said they supported removing Green from the board.
Each of Florida's 24 CareerSource agencies is overseen by its own board of directors, whose members come from the fields of education, business, and government, and from labor organizations.
County commissioners must approve the board members and the agencies' budgets. But only the board of directors, not the County Commission, has the power to remove their leaders.