CLEARWATER –– The head of two Tampa Bay agencies once considered leaders in the state at helping people find work is now unemployed.
Executive committee members of the CareerSource Pinellas board voted 6-1 Wednesday to fire Edward Peachey amid questions about whether the center inflated the number of people it placed into jobs and whether he engaged in an improper relationship with a coworker.
They joined the board of CareerSource Tampa Bay in Hillsborough County, which Peachey also led until he was fired there on Monday. They also matched their counterparts in approving a settlement of five months pay for the former CEO if he agrees not to sue.
"Mr. Peachey's actions created a toxic workplace and low morale," said CareerSource Pinellas board chairman Jack Geller, a lawyer. "It just infected the workplace totally."
Board members took separate votes on whether to fire Peachey and pay him severance. Tom Bedwell, who had sought to link the two questions, was the lone vote against firing Peachey. The board voted 5-2 on the payout, with Geller and Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch opposing the measure.
After the vote, Welch, who was filling in for Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard at the meeting, said he was dismayed by the decision to offer Peachey severance.
"I had hoped the board would be more responsible and accountable," he said.
CareerSource Pinellas board member Kim Marston, not a member of the executive committee that voted Wednesday, said he exercised an option to suspend the severance decision after the meeting and to bring the matter before the full board. That group is set to meet March 21.
Peachey declined to comment.
Both job centers are under investigation into whether they exaggerated job placement numbers in reports to the state. The agencies receive millions in tax dollars each year to train and connect people to work.
Earlier this month, the Tampa Bay Times reported that the job centers took credit for finding work for thousands of people who had not sought their help. Current and former employees have said Peachey also had a romantic relationship with a top administrator, Haley Loeun, whose pay rose dramatically as three of her relatives got jobs at the agencies. Loeun was fired last week.
The state Department of Economic Opportunity launched an investigation in January when the Times asked questions about CareerSource hiring figures. The U.S. Department of Labor and Florida Department of Law Enforcement have since joined the probe.
DEO Inspector General James Landsberg wrote to the boards this week saying investigators have discovered "information that raised reasonable suspicion of potential criminal activity."
A possible settlement agreement with Peachey that would provide him severance is pending a review over whether offering five months pay conforms with state law. Pinellas County Attorney Jewel White said some severance payments are limited to six weeks when they involve officials at a government entity. It is unclear, she said, if that covers the local CareerSource centers, which are publicly-funded nonprofits.
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The DEO said it is reviewing the issue.
Peachey, 54, has led the Pinellas center since 2003. He took over the Hillsborough center after a spending scandal forced out the former CEO in 2010. Last year, he earned $288,865 in total compensation, according to payroll records.
For years, Peachey has boasted of his agencies' success at placing people in jobs. Both of the agencies have routinely ranked near the top when compared to the 22 other CareerSource centers across the state, based on the numbers they report to the DEO. The state has said those placement figures were a factor in incentive money awarded to the nonprofits.
As was the case at the meeting in Hillsborough on Monday, Peachey's attorney, Marion Hale, told CareerSource Pinellas board members her client has done nothing wrong and is the victim of a "vendetta" by the news media.
Any errors in reports to the state were the result of coding issues that could have been flagged by auditors, she said, and had nothing to do with Peachey.
"This is a witch hunt," Hale said.
Welch, the Pinellas commissioner, accused Hale of trying to intimidate board members. This week her law firm requested years of records about his office spending, along with his personnel file from St. Petersburg College, where he was formerly a vice president. Hale said Peachey has a right to seek public records for any reason and said the requests were not related to CareerSource.
Several board members agreed Peachey had to be fired but said they were worried about letting him go without severance after Hale sent a letter threatening litigation.
Board member William Price said the agencies have to be smart with taxpayer dollars.
"I don't want to spend the public's money defending a lawsuit," he said.
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