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Editorial: Clean house at CareerSource agencies

Published: February 1, 2018 Updated: February 1, 2018 at 06:17 PM
DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times Edward Peachey, President and CEO, CareerSource Pinellas, left, and Aundre Green, Executive Committee and Board Chair; General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems, attend a meeting of the Executive Committee for CareerSource Pinellas on Wednesday (12/6/17) at the EpiCenter in Clearwater. Ed Peachey is the CEO who runs both CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay. Peachey chairs both public agencies and earns salaries from both totaling more than $400,000. The agencies collect $32 million annually from the federal government and provide job services to Tampa Bay area residents.

The rot at the public agencies that help Tampa Bay workers find jobs extends beyond their chief executive. It includes board members of CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay who fail to grasp the seriousness of the evidence of inflated performance numbers. Their allegiance to the agencies’ embattled leader rather than to the county commissioners who appointed them and to the public is misplaced, and it will require state and federal investigations to get to the bottom of this mess.

U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio jointly asked Labor Secretary Alex Acosta on Thursday to investigate whether federal money has been misspent following reports by the Tampa Bay Times’ Mark Puente that question whether CareerSource officials are taking credit for placing people in jobs who were never helped. U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, and state lawmakers such as House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, and Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, also have called for investigations. The state’s Department of Economic Opportunity is investigating, and Gov. Rick Scott has called on CareerSource board members to "consider appropriate disciplinary and administrative action.’’

Yet CareerSource board members still don’t get it. They have been brushing aside any concerns and defending the agencies’ president and CEO, Edward Peachey. They also have been arrogantly dismissing Hillsborough and Pinellas commissioners who recognize there should be decisive action and that Peachey needs to go. Agency board members who are that blind to their own responsibilities to taxpayers and so dismissive of the importance of public accountability should be removed immediately by county commissioners.

They can start with the CareerSource board chairs, Aundre Green in Pinellas and Richard Peck in Hillsborough. Green was disrespectful and dismissive of Pinellas Commissioner Pat Gerard’s effort as a CareerSource board member to at least place Peachey on paid suspension Wednesday. Instead, the CareerSource Pinellas committee voted to create a panel to examine how the agency compiles job placement numbers. It was only after county commissioners responded by vowing to remove Green from the board next week that Green had a change of heart and decided Thursday to suspend Peachey with pay. That does not go far enough, and a review by a panel aided by the agency’s counsel lacks independence. Pinellas commissioners next week should remove Green and the others who voted for this stalling tactic, and they should appoint new CareerSource board members who would remove Peachey.

At least in Hillsborough County commissioners voted Thursday to recommend Peachey be placed on unpaid suspension. The CareerSource Tampa Bay’s executive committee meets today, but board chair Richard Peck already has dismissed any problems as a "clerical error’’ to staff members. That seems implausible, to be kind. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri’s description — "scam" —sounds more likely.

These two CareerSource agencies received $32 million in federal money in 2016. They are supposed to be helping real workers find real jobs. Instead, records and interviews by the Times suggest numbers have been inflated that could help determine how much public money the agencies receive. Peachey and the board members who have defended him should be removed, and the federal and state investigations should move forward.