CLEARWATER –– The bumpy ride finally ended for Tampa Bay's former jobs chief on Tuesday.
Over nearly two months, Edward Peachey, the former president and CEO of both CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay, has been suspended, fired, reinstated, then fired again. Deciding whether to pay him to go quietly has been a similarly back and forth decision for the boards who oversaw him.
But the board of CareerSource Pinellas finally severed ties with Peachey for good on Tuesday when it voted 12-3 to rescind an agreement to grant him five months of pay as settlement if he doesn't sue the agency or its board members.
Now they wait to see if Peachey indeed files suit, as his attorney has threatened. The board of CareerSource Tampa Bay, which serves Hillsborough County, voted last week to rescind its $117,000 settlement offer until investigations into whether the agencies inflated job placement numbers are concluded.
The revocation in Pinellas came six days after Gov. Rick Scott's administration warned each agency that the settlements amounted to severance to which Peachey is not entitled and urged them to reconsider.
"They need to get off the pot," board chair Jack Geller said about the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, which is spearheading the review of both jobs centers. "They need to do something. The nasty letter came one hour after we voted" last week.
In response, the DEO pointed to last week's letter.
"Mr. Peachey and CareerSource Pinellas are under investigation by multiple entities, and the Board of Directors should have the taxpayers best interest in mind," spokeswoman Tiffany Vause wrote in a statement. "Paying someone a severance or settlement while under investigation is a blatant misuse of taxpayer dollars."
Both agencies came under scrutiny when the Tampa Bay Times began raising questions in January about how they take credit for placing people in jobs. The agencies receive millions in tax dollars to help people find work. The DEO, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the U.S. Department of Labor are looking into whether they took credit for people whom they provided no assistance.
Last Wednesday, DEO executive director Cissy Proctor sent letters to the chairmen of both job agencies strongly urging them not to pay Peachey amid "allegations of serious misconduct and potential criminal conduct." Proctor warned that the agencies shouldn't use taxpayer money for any payment.
The next day, the board for CareerSource Tampa Bay, which serves Hillsborough, delayed paying Peachey, 54, a settlement until state and federal authorities determine whether there was wrongdoing.
On Tuesday, Marion Hale, Peachey's attorney, warned that he is still demanding to be paid. She has said he did nothing wrong.
"Mr. Peachey is not going to be kicked to the curb like a dog at the pound," Hale said.
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Several board members criticized the DEO for not sending the letter sooner.
"Obviously this letter from DEO was disconcerting. I also think it was disingenuous," said board member Karla Leavelle.
"It puts this board in the impossible position of choosing which poison," CareerSource lawyer Charles Harris said about the timing of the letter. "That letter is not going to allow you to avoid litigation, in my opinion."
Some board members wanted to pay the settlement because they believe it would cost more to defend a lawsuit from Peachey, whose contract expired in January and had not been renewed.
Since the state and federal investigations started, the Times has published stories about how both job centers have taken credit for helping people find jobs who said they had never interacted with either agency.
The Times also reported that the agencies used a fictitious phone number –– 999-999-9999 –– more than 35,000 times combined when they entered personal information about job candidates into a state network from 2014 through 2017. That's more than a quarter of the 126,633 people they claimed to have helped find work.
While some other CareerSource offices in the state use that contact number for people as a fill-in for people who have no phone or decline to provide the information, none of the other 22 used the fictitious number nearly as often. In fact, most used it fewer than 20 times, two never used it, and two others used it only once.
TAMPA BAY TIMES COVERAGE: CAREERSOURCE
Contact Mark Puente at email@example.com or (727) 892-2996. Contact Zachary T. Sampson at firstname.lastname@example.org.