Trust is crumbling around Tampa Bay's two taxpayer-funded job placement agencies. The Tampa Bay Times has documented serious irregularities in the job placement figures claimed by CareerSource Tampa Bay and CareerSource Pinellas, leaving no doubt that the CEO has to go. What must follow are thorough investigations that fully expose how taxpayer money has been spent — or misspent.
The nonprofit agencies, which have counterparts across Florida, register job seekers in a database, provide job training and other employment assistance and match workers with employers. Successful job placements are reported to the state Department of Economic Opportunity. Unlike other CareerSource offices, Times staff writer Mark Puente found, the Tampa Bay agencies asked local employers for the names and information of everyone they've hired, not just CareerSource clients, then in some cases claimed credit for all the new hires. Over four years, the two agencies claimed 126,000 successful job placements, a big number that's now in serious doubt.
CEO Edward Peachey, who earns $291,097 a year, touts his agencies as state leaders in matching workers with jobs but has refused to answer questions and resisted turning over records. He can't duck much longer. The state Department of Economic Opportunity has launched an investigation, and officials including Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran and U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist have called for more probes. Gov. Rick Scott urged both CareerSource agency boards to convene emergency meetings to address the allegations and "consider appropriate disciplinary and administrative action." Pinellas County commissioners, who approve CareerSource board appointments and the agency's budget, plan to discuss the issue today. They should unequivocally urge the board to fire Peachey and open up the agency's books for inspection. Hillsborough County commissioners, who oversee CareerSource Tampa Bay, should do the same.
Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri didn't wait for the slow wheels of bureaucracy to start moving. After the Times began reporting on the job placement numbers, Gualtieri looked into CareerSource Pinellas' claims about Sheriff's Office hires. He found that the agency told the state it helped 624 sheriff's employees get hired since 2014, a number that included a nonexistent sports director position and a retired FBI agent whom Gualtieri recruited himself. In fact, the sheriff said he couldn't find any record of CareerSource referring a single job candidate to him.
After too much time with too little oversight, CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay are getting some much-needed scrutiny. The agencies are supposed to serve a high calling, helping displaced workers find good jobs. Instead, as Gualtieri said, the whole thing "looks to be a scam." If local leaders cannot act quickly to clean up this mess, the governor, the Legislature and Congress appear ready with a mop.