1. News

Children's Board leader to get sizable retirement payout

TAMPA — Luanne Panacek, the embattled leader of the Children's Board of Hillsborough County, vowed to her staff last month that she would not leave.

If Panacek sticks around through November 2013 as she's requested, she'll get a hefty payout from the state retirement system: $534,320.

Panacek, who has been with the taxpayer-funded Children's Board since 1995, entered the state's deferred retirement option program in 2008. To be eligible for the full payout, she must stay through November 2013, according to the Florida Department of Management Services.

It's unclear how much she would lose if she left early.

On Thursday, board member Pete Edwards circulated a series of questions about Panacek's contract, including how much the Children's Board would owe her if it terminated her contract a year early. He did not bring up the subject at a board meeting, but said he asked the questions because he thinks Panacek and the agency should part ways.

If Panacek were terminated without cause, she would get either 26 weeks of pay or the remainder left on her contract, whichever is less. If she resigns, she's due no compensation other than accrued leave.

"People really want everybody to cut their losses and move on," Edwards said.

No one else on the board of directors has called for her resignation, although chairman Chris Brown has questioned whether she is still the right person to lead the $30 million agency.

One problem that's started to simmer with the board of directors: Panacek's contract, which pays $171,330 a year, expires at the end of September 2013 — two months before her official retirement date.

Brown raised the issue of the two-month gap at a recent committee meeting, where the topic was planning for Panacek's replacement. Panacek told board members she assumed they would extend her contract for two months to meet her retirement date.

According to a recording of the September 2010 meeting when board members signed her three-year contract, no one mentioned the difference between the contract end date and Pancek's retirement date.

"I will not be in favor of extending the contract just to meet the DROP date," Edwards said. He said the two months constituted a "bonus" with which he is uncomfortable.

"I know taxpayers aren't going to like that," he said. "You can't do that."

The Children's Board began coming under closer scrutiny in recent months after revelations that Panacek let a friend into the public building after hours to anoint the offices with holy oil. More recently, about 15 staffers sent emails to Brown, complaining about low morale and a culture of retribution and even levying accusations that top executives doctored documents.

Panacek received a positive 2011 evaluation from the agency's board members earlier this year.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at or (813) 226-3374.