TAMPA — The man tasked for years with helping Tampa Bay residents find work lost one of his own jobs on Monday.
Board members of CareerSource Tampa Bay voted 6-1 on Monday to fire president and CEO Edward Peachey as they grapple with multiple investigations into whether the agency inflated its hiring numbers to the state.
Sister agency CareerSource Pinellas, which Peachey also ran, will consider taking the same action on Wednesday.
The executive committee vote by CareerSource Tampa Bay, which serves Hillsborough County, allows Peachey to collect severance pay for five months if he agrees not to sue the agency. He will also receive back pay for the past three weeks that he has been on unpaid suspension.
TAMPA BAY TIMES COVERAGE: CAREERSOURCE
Board members said it was fair to offer Peachey the parachute since it so far has not been shown he has done anything wrong, while acknowledging that keeping him on would be a distraction.
But Hillsborough Commissioner Sandy Murman — the lone no vote — said Peachey doesn't deserve severance while state and federal investigations into the agencies are ongoing. She urged committee members to consider the seriousness of the allegations hovering over both centers.
"Honestly, today, how can you approve severance?" Murman said after the vote. "There could be fraudulent acts. It was totally improper."
Any severance money would come from private donations and fees the agencies charges companies to sponsor job fairs, officials said.
The CareerSource agencies receive millions in tax dollars each year to help people find jobs, working with companies to place them. Earlier this month, the Tampa Bay Times reported that both centers have taken credit for finding jobs for thousands of people who had not sought their assistance.
The state Department of Economic Opportunity launched an investigation last month when the Times started asking questions about the hiring figures. The U.S. Department of Labor and Florida Department of Law Enforcement have since initiated their own investigations.
Before Monday's committee vote, Peachey's attorney, Marion Hale, told board members the move to fire her client was "outrageous."
She said that the state DEO, which receives job placement figures from the state's 24 CareerSource centers, has not previously taken any issue with how the local offices report their figures. She dismissed any problems as "coding issues" that don't involve Peachey.
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The committee, she said, was only acting in response to "lies," "gossip" and "rumors" spread by the media.
"You know the stories are false," Hale said. "Mr. Peachey served admirably for years."
Board member John Kearney, an executive with Advanced Training Systems, keyed in on that line of argument in pushing for Peachey's dismissal, but with severance.
"I hope that nobody else in this room is attacked by the media," he said. "It can go on and on."
Earlier Monday, the DEO inspector general sent a letter in response to a request for guidance from the Hillsborough and Pinellas CareerSource boards. It underscored how seriously the state is taking the allegations.
It highlighted how the agencies have taken credit for placing people in jobs based on hiring lists they got from employers that included people not referred to them by CareerSource.
"It appears that many of these individuals were not seeking employment — they had found employment," wrote James E. Landsberg, inspector general for the DEO. "It also appears that the employers were not considering whether to hire many of the individuals — the employers had already hired them."
In the letter, Landsberg said the department reviewed the allegations being reported and sent the information to law enforcement because it "raised reasonable suspicion of criminal activity."
The letter also urged the local CareerSource agencies not to now alter records in a statewide network as the criminal investigation continues. It says any altering of records is "not permissible until further notice."
CareerSource attorney Charles Harris said the DEO letter "raises doubts" that the centers could take any credit for placements from hiring lists. But he said he was not absolutely sure.
Harris said Peachey, who took home $288,865 in 2017 in salary and benefits, is paid by CareerSource Pinellas but the Hillsborough board reimburses half of his total salary through a shared services agreement. He said the two centers cannot find a "fully executed copy" of that agreement.
Peachey, 54, has led the Pinellas center since 2003. He took over the Hillsborough agency in 2010 after a spending scandal forced out the former leader.
After the meeting, Hillsborough board chair Dick Peck said he has no problem paying Peachey a severance. Asked what he would tell jobseekers across the county, Peck replied, "Come on down to any CareerSource (office). We have great opportunities."
Moments later, Peck told reporters that he had changed the locks on Peachey's office and that Peachey had left. Peachey then emerged from a closed office.
"You got to leave, bud," Peck told Peachey. "I need the key."
Peachey did not respond and went into another office.
Contact Mark Puente at email@example.com or (727) 892-2996. Contact Zachary T. Sampson at firstname.lastname@example.org.