In Tampa visit, Rick Scott highlights $10 billion in tax cuts…and that gun legislation

Scott is saying Florida is a model for the rest of the nation on gun legislation.


By Will Kennedy

19 hours ago



Gov. Rick Scott kicked off a post-legislative session tour in Tampa on Wednesday by touting $10 billion in tax cuts since he became governor and downplaying the National Rifle Association’s lawsuit against the state over a gun bill he signed into law this week.

Scott chose Cox Fire Protection, a small business in Tampa that installs and manufactures fire equipment, as the stage for the news conference, which had the feel of a campaign event. Scott is considering a run for the U.S. Senate to challenge Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson.

After highlighting more than $550 million in tax reductions passed by lawmakers that amounted to a total of $10 billion in cuts during his span as Florida governor since 2011, Scott shifted attention to Washington D.C., 900 miles to the northeast.

“D.C., they don’t get anything done,” Scott said. “Everything up there always ends up in politics, so nothing happens.”

Scott contrasted the stalemate in Washington to the progress Florida has made in three weeks since the Parkland shooting.

“So in Florida in three weeks from Parkland happening,” he said, “we passed historic legislation, and two days later I was able to sign it.”

Asked by a reporter about the NRA’s lawsuit, Scott said nothing about the challenge from a group that has strongly supported his political career. Instead, he kept his response general, saying “I’m going to fight for this legislation, I think it’s going to do what I believe in, it’s going to increase school safety.”

Scott highlighted other issues from the session, including the hurricane preparation sales tax holiday, as well as reductions in the tax on agricultural supplies and commercial leases.

“We are the only state that has a tax on commercial leases,” Scott said. “For the second year in a row we saw a reduction in this business tax, and we need to continue to do that and eventually hopefully eliminate that tax because it’s unfair to all business but dramatically impacts our small businesses.”

Scott endorsed a constitutional amendment, that will appear on the November ballot, which would prevent future tax increases after he leaves office. If the amendment passes, any proposed tax increase would require a two-thirds majority in the legislature to become law.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman said the cuts make Florida more appealing.

“Cutting taxes, that’s the American way,” Murman said. “People come here to Florida because of the great quality of life, and they come here because of low taxes.”

Scott also spoke on student walkouts across the state in response to the Parkland shooting last month, saying he doesn’t blame the children for wanting to be safe in school.

“I like the fact that people are active politically,” Scott said. “You can get bills passed if you’re active.”


Pinellas to start bus service to Tampa International Airport this summer

Caitlin Johnston



Published: March 9, 2018

Updated: March 10, 2018 at 02:12 AM


TAMPA — Pinellas County will finally get a direct bus to Tampa International Airport starting this summer.

Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority CEO Brad Miller announced the new route Friday to a group of politicians from Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties who had gathered at the airport to talk about regional transportation options.

Airport CEO Joe Lopano, who often notes that people can fly directly to Zurich from Tampa but can’t take an express bus to the airport, congratulated Miller on the new route. Lopano praised it as a positive development for the airport and those who travel through Tampa Bay.

And he said the airport’s parking garages can handle any loss of business.

“Not that I want to give away parking revenue, but we’re getting kinda full out here,” Lopano quipped.

The service will start in June and operate out of the Gateway area. There is currently no bus from Pinellas County to the airport.

The bus route will only run during peak travel times on the weekdays.

Miller stressed this is not an ideal service. But it is the kind of service PSTA can launch as quickly as possible.

“The number one thing that service is lacking is more frequency,” Miller said. “It will be a great start, but in order to serve more air travelers it will have to operate on Saturdays and Sundays and later in to the evening.”

Though its a barebones service that will need additional funding to expand, Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman said the ability for PSTA to launch a direct bus to the airport was a challenge to other counties in the region. She also serves on the board of Hillsborough’s bus agency.

“I think the takeaway from me is that we need to step up our game,” Murman said,  “because we need to pass you.”



Editorial: Hillsborough commission steps up on gun control


Published: March 9, 2018


It’s not perfect or even a done deal. But the vote by Hillsborough County commissioners this week to look into extending the local waiting period for buying a gun reflects that more local officials throughout the nation are listening to the public’s call for sensible gun restrictions even as state legislators and members of Congress remain timid and fearful of the National Rifle Association.

The commission voted 4-1 Wednesday to have the county attorney draft an ordinance that would extend the local waiting period on gun purchases to five days from three. While the state has a three-day waiting period to purchase handguns, the Florida Constitution gives counties the flexibility to extend the waiting period for the purchase of “any firearm” to five days. The five days also is longer than the three-day waiting period that will now apply to the purchase of all guns as part of the school safety bill Gov. Rick Scott signed into law Friday. The commission will vote on the local five-day proposal after holding a public hearing, which has not been scheduled but could be in May.

This may not have been the starting point for Commissioner Les Miller, who proposed the idea, but he made a meaningful contribution nonetheless. Miller had asked commissioners to give their support to a ban on assault weapons — which the Legislature refused to include in the school safety legislation — and to the repeal of a state statute that prohibits local governments from regulating firearms and ammunition. Those two proposals faced an uphill climb; local bans would likely not pass legal muster, and local officials who violate the law can be punished with a $5,000 fine and removal from office. Such is the power of NRA in Florida, which has used its clout in Tallahassee to drown the voice of government that is closest to the people.

Even though only the waiting period proposal survived, Miller advanced the debate by forcing his colleagues to stake a position. To their credit, Commissioners Al Higginbotham, Victor Crist and Sandy Murman supported his call for the staff to bring back an ordinance. Whether the board ultimately votes to extend the waiting period remains to be seen. Commissioner Stacy White, who voted no on moving forward, seems unswayed, and two commissioners were absent Wednesday.

Still, Miller stood his ground, made his point and came away with something better than what the county already had. He gave moral support to state lawmakers who channeled the public’s call for reasonable gun restrictions in the wake of the 17 shooting deaths at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland and were defeated. Miller used what few tools he had in hand to make a difference. The commission should follow his lead and approve this modest step for public safety, and other county commissions throughout Tampa Bay should adopt the five-day waiting period as well.


Gov. Rick Scott tells Tampa Bay CareerSource boards to make leadership changes

Mark Puente

Zachary T. SampsonTimes staff writer


Published: March 9, 2018

Updated: March 9, 2018 at 02:43 PM


Gov. Rick Scott reiterated his call on Friday for leadership change at Tampa Bay’s two job placement centers amid ongoing state and federal probes into their activities.

His message came after board members for CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay in Hillsborouh rescinded votes to fire their president and CEO Edward Peachey this week.

“With multiple ongoing investigations currently being conducted … including potential criminal charges, it’s unbelievable that the proper steps to protect taxpayers have still not been taken,” said Scott’s communications director John Tupps.

Peachey was fired last week, but only for a short period of time before board members pulled back the decision. Small executive committees of CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay had voted to terminate him without cause at the end of last month, electing to give him five months severance in exchange for him not suing the agencies.

Within days of the firings, board members in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties invoked a rule to void the decisions until the matter could be brought before the full boards.

Investigators are trying to determine whether the agencies led by Peachey inflated the number of job placements they reported to state officials. They receive millions in tax dollars annually to help people find work and have received state incentive money in part based on their placement figures.

Current and former employees have also told the Tampa Bay Times that Peachey was in a romantic relationship with a top administrator he oversaw, Haley Loeun, who was fired two weeks ago. Her salary had ballooned in recent years as three of her relatives got jobs at the local CareerSource offices.


The governor, according to Tupps’ statement, has further directed the state Department of Economic Opportunity “to fully review any potential severance for employees at CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay.

“These employees should be treated no different than any other public employee,” Tupps said. “Taxpayers deserve better.”

The local CareerSource boards are reviewing how much severance they can pay Peachey, who has no employment contract and is an at-will employee. His attorney, Marion Hale, has threatened a lawsuit if he is not paid for his separation from the agency.

Pinellas County Attorney Jewel White said a state law could limit any severance for Peachey to six weeks because he leads a government entity — both work centers rely on taxpayer dollars.

But local CareerSource lawyer Charles Harris told executive committee members in Hillsborough County on Thursday that they could likely get around the law if they classify the payment as a settlement, not severance.

Harris said he does not believe that Peachey has a strong claim to win a lawsuit, but it could be cheaper to pay a settlement than engage in a legal battle.

County commissioners, who serve as the vice chairs of each board, oppose any payout, especially with ongoing criminal investigations.

“This community is completely outraged over the severance,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman. “This is not a decision that we should take lightly. Whether it is a severance or settlement, it’s still a payment.”

Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard said the governor’s statement “seems pretty clear” on what the board should do.

“I wonder if it will be enough to convince the board to do the right thing,” she said. “It seems some have been waiting for someone to tell them what to do.”

Peachey has been on administrative leave since early last month, without pay in Hillsborough and with pay in Pinellas. He is slated to remain on leave until the full boards of each agency decide his future. The Pinellas board is set to meet March 21. Hillsborough meets March 22.

In January, the governor called for the board of directors at both job centers to schedule emergency meetings to deal with the allegations. His letter came days after the Times asked the Florida DEO about whether CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay improperly claimed credit for putting people to work who they hadn’t actually assisted.



Assault weapons ban rejected in Hillsborough, but it may take longer to buy a handgun

By Steve Contorno, Times Staff Writer


Published: March 7, 2018

Updated: March 7, 2018 at 08:46 PM


TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners on Wednesday said no to banning the sale of assault-style weapons, but they may be willing to extend the waiting period to purchase a handgun.

Commissioner Les Miller made an impassioned pitch for his colleagues to take up his assault weapons ban. He talked about the AR-15 rifle — how it has been used in mass shootings across the country, most recently to kill 17 at a school in Parkland, and how it compares to the firearms he trained with while in the Air Force.

“I’m not trying to take away anyone’s right to bear arms,” Miller said, before adding, “These weapons are used in war.”

But a local ban likely wouldn’t pass legal muster; the state prohibits municipalities from passing most firearms restrictions. Public officials who violate the law can be punished with a $5,000 fine and removal from office.

When Miller made the motion to introduce an assault weapons ban, he was met with crickets. And it died without discussion.

Miller was more successful in garnering support for extending the waiting period on gun purchases from three days to five days. The state Constitution mandates a three-day waiting period on handgun purchases and allows counties the flexibility to make it five days.

In a 4-1 vote, commissioners asked the county attorney’s office to draft an ordinance to do just that. The board will vote on the proposed ordinance at a future meeting, after a public hearing.

Miller was supported by Commissioners Victor Crist, Al Higginbotham and Sandy Murman.

Commissioner Stacy White voted no. Commissioners Pat Kemp and Ken Hagan were absent.

Crist, who grew up in the Middle East, regaled the audience with a tale of witnessing an assassination attempt on his father thwarted by a knife. He said that encounter informed his position on whether to restrict people from buying weapons.

“Bad people are everywhere, Commissioner Miller,” Crist said, “and if we disarm the good people, then we can’t defend ourselves with the bad people.”

However, Crist said he didn’t have similar qualms about extending the waiting period.

White asked County Attorney Chip Fletcher what the waiting period is in Broward County, the home of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the site of last month’s deadly shooting. It’s five days, Fletcher responded.

“This was an unthinkable act. Clearly, as we address this issues, solutions have to be comprehensive in nature,” White said. “Clearly, policy framework that called for a five-day waiting period was ineffective in Broward County.”

Commissioners also decided to review how to punish people who make threats against schools.

Under a 2011 state law, the governor can remove from office local politicians or officials if a court determines there was a “knowing and willful” violation of the state prohibition on local gun restrictions. Gov. Rick Scott’s office said earlier this week that he would review whether to remove Hills­borough commissioners if they passed such an ordinance.

Miller said he was willing to risk a fine and removal from office, even if only to take a symbolic stand against military-style weapons and rally support for a statewide ban. Lawmakers in Tallahassee already rejected a similar proposal, and instead approved legislation to arm some school personnel, add school resource officers, increase the age to purchase a gun, ban bump stocks and expand the three-day waiting period on handguns to include all rifles and shotguns.



Hillsborough Commission rejects assault weapons ban


18 hours ago


Commissioner Les Miller‘s proposal to have Hillsborough County ban assault weapons died Wednesday after failing to pick up a second vote from the County Commission.

The five-member board did come out to support a measure extending the waiting period to buy a firearm in the county from three days to five, as well as voting to advance new penalties for people who make threats on social media to schools.

But Miller sought to end so-called “weapons of war” that drew the media’s attention to the meeting. It was his response to the Parkland Valentine’s Day massacre, where 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz shot and killed 14 students and three teachers using an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

AR-15s were the same weapon used to slaughter innocents in other recent American mass shootings.

Miller’s proposal flew in the face of a 2011 Florida law that fines any local official who knowingly violates a state ban on local gun restrictions up to $5,000.

The same rule also gives the Governor power to remove from office anyone flouting the law.

“It could very well cost me in the long run, but if it does it does, it does. I had to make a stance,” Miller said. “I had to come forward to say what was on my mind. I held back too long. I probably should have said this a long time ago.”

After the board rejected the assault weapons ban, Miller immediately made another proposal to have the board vote to repeal the state statute penalizing local officials for enacting gun control measures. That measure also died by failing to get a second commissioner to move it forward.

Undaunted, Miller came back with a third proposal: To extend the waiting period to buy a firearm in Hillsborough County from three to five days. He acknowledged that it was more modest in scope than his other proposals, but said that an additional two days might be able to indicate if a person has mental problems or warrants for their arrest.

It initially got pushback from commissioners Stacy White and Sandy Murman.

White indicated (through a question to county attorney Chip Fletcher) that there was a five-day waiting period in Broward County, the site of last month’s horrific act, and said it wouldn’t have prevented it from happening.

Murman also initially objected, saying that the Florida Legislature was still debating gun policy this week that might make the county’s decision moot. With commissioners Ken Hagan and Pat Kemp not in attendance, she said she didn’t believe it was right to vote on such an important issue without the full board weighing in.

“These are really sensitive issues that need every single one of our members’ attention, ” Murman said.

Commissioner Victor Crist said he saw both sides of the issue, but indicated that the problem was bad people using guns, not guns themselves.

“We want to take the guns out of the hands of those who would abuse the privilege of owning and using one,” he said, adding, “but do we also want to take the guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens who want to protect themselves?”

Crist, Murman and Al Higginbotham then moved to support Miller’s proposal on a 4-1 vote. White was the only dissenter.

Miller wasn’t done. He then made his fourth proposal, calling on staff to draft an ordinance to make it a misdemeanor on anyone who makes a threat on social media against any Hillsborough county school or day care facility.

Murman said she wanted to enhance the provision to extend to government facilities and made a substitute motion for county staff to meet with local law enforcement, the state attorney and chief judge of the courts to make recommendations on any policies regarding people who make threats on social media.

White said he was thinking along the same lines as Murman, but said he would support the proposal, adding that it didn’t preclude staff from getting feedback from those officials in crafting such an ordinance.

While Murman’s substitute motion failed, Miller’s measure passed 5-0.

Crist then proposed that county staff prepare a resolution calling for the Legislature to make any killing on a school campus a capital offense, which the board unanimously approved.

Before the commissioners debated the measures, several members of the public weighed in on Miller’s proposal to ban assault weapons.

“Nothing is going be a perfect fix, but we need to start somewhere. And somewhere is here. And now,” said Jackie Clemons Plisken.

“Show the moral courage to do the right thing, not the party-line thing or the NRA thing, but the human and compassionate thing,” said Hillsborough County Democratic Party chair Ione Townsend. “Do the thing you would be proud of when your children and grandchildren ask you what did you do to keep me safe?

But for Phil Walters, it was a behavioral issue. Legislators should not blame guns for mass shootings like the one in Parkland last month, he said.

“Y’all talking about possibly doing something to pre-empt state law,” Walters said of Miller’s proposal. “I hope our county attorney advised you all on that. Our society functions because of laws.”


Lawyer: Eckerd Connects’ board had right to close meeting amid foster care crisis

By Mark Douglas


Published: March 1, 2018, 6:47 pm

Updated: March 1, 2018, 6:55 pm


TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Eckerd Connects expects a $4 million deficit in foster care funds for Hillsborough County this year, but today they hired one of Tallahassee’s most prominent lawyers to respond to our 8 On Your Side “Rides to Nowhere” investigation.

On Wednesday, we questioned the closing of Eckerd’s parent board of directors meeting to our cameras and the public in light of the growing foster care crisis in Hillsborough County.  On Thursday, attorney Barry Richard, who represented George W. Bush in the 2000 Presidential race hanging chad dispute that decided the election, sent a letter to our lawyers insisting Eckerd’s parent board has nothing to do with managing foster care or other taxpayer-funded business and is therefore exempt from Florida’s Sunshine Law.

Richard says “division boards” that directly manage foster care in Pinellas and Hillsborough are open to the public and subject to Florida’s open meetings law.

“Matters relating to the Florida contract are not discussed at the parent company board meetings,” Richard wrote.

Richard insists that “a separate division of Eckerd” run by a “division board” is in charge of Hillsborough foster care. That troubled foster care system is now the subject of a DCF review, an Inspector General investigation, and an abuse investigation by the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office.

In January, our “Rides to Nowhere” investigation documented foster kids spending their days held in caseworkers’ cars at a Wawa gas station on Waters Ave instead of attending school, therapy or going to a foster home.

Eckerd first received word of that practice through an anonymous tip in November, but it was still going on when we staked out the Wawa in January.

Richard insists Eckerd is under no obligation to open its “parent board” meeting to the public saying no public business—foster care or otherwise—is discussed at those meetings. The private nonprofit organization received a total of  $184,566,920—equivalent to 96% of its total funding—from government sources according to the most recent IRS report in 2016.

On Tuesday, the DCF urged Eckerd to open its “parent board” meeting and on Wednesday, so did Governor Rick Scott.  On Thursday, Hillsborough Commissioner and foster care advocate Sandy Murman told Eight on Your Side Eckerd should open all of its meetings for the sake of transparency and public perception in light of the foster care failures in Hillsborough.

“I think transparency and accountability is number one priority,” Murman said. “You should open your doors and let people help you in your decision making and not close people out. I think it breeds suspicion.”

In his letter, Richard praises 8 On Your Side for some of our reporting. “To its credit, WFLA-TV initially brought to light deficiencies in the manner in which Eckerd’s subcontractor, Youth and Family Alternatives, was performing its responsibilities. Upon learning of the deficiencies, Eckerd promptly fired the subcontractor and took steps to correct the deficiencies,” Richard wrote. He ends his letter with a warning. “I urge you to counsel your client to prudently monitor Mr. Douglas’ reports…”


Tampa Bay jobs chief Edward Peachey’s firing upended


Mark Puente

Zachary T. SampsonTimes staff writer


Published: March 6, 2018

Updated: March 6, 2018 at 11:03 AM


Edward Peachey is back –– for now.

The decisions to fire Pinellas and Hillsborough counties’ jobs chief have been temporarily put on hold over the threat of a lawsuit, thrusting the agencies into further disarray amid state and federal investigations.

The executive committees of CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa in Hillsborough, both of which Peachey served as president and CEO, voted to remove him last week over allegations that the agencies have inflated their job placement numbers in reports to the state. But members of both committees have invoked a rule to require a vote by the full board of each agency to decide Peachey’s fate.

In Pinellas board member Lenne’ Nicklaus has sought the vote by the full board. In Hillsborough, County Commissioner Sandra Murman made a similar request.

The Pinellas board is set to meet March 21 and Hillsborough is set to meet March 22.

“I feel that if we’re getting sued, I want the whole board to be a part of that,” Nicklaus said Monday. “I don’t want it to be just the executive board making that decision.”

Murman, in Hillsborough, was disappointed her fellow executive committee members voted to give Peachey severance despite the allegations swirling around the agency. She too felt like the decision should go up for a wider vote.

“It needs to go to the full board so everyone is held accountable,” said Murman, who still supports Peachey’s firing.

Pinellas board chair Jack Geller said he respected Nicklaus’ decision to seek a full board vote but was in “total shock” because she supported the firing last week

“She voted for it at the meeting,” Geller said.

Peachey now is still on paid leave in Pinellas and on unpaid leave in Hillsborough until a final decision is made. He had been suspended by both boards before the committees voted to fire him.

Nicklaus said she has not spoken to Peachey but would like to hear from him, not his attorney, about numerous allegations of mismanagement and what a state inspector general has called possible criminal activity.

“I think he should speak to the board and address some of the issues and explain it because we have not heard from him,” Nicklaus said. She said she still stands by voting to fire him.

Last week, another Pinellas board member, Kim Marston, exercised a similar option to void the executive committee’s decision to give Peachey up to five months pay in a settlement in Pinellas. The Hillsborough board also voted for a similar severance package.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is reviewing whether Peachy would be subject to a state law that limits public employees to six weeks of severance.

Both agencies receive millions in tax dollars each year to train and connect people to work. Last month, the Tampa Bay Times reported that the jobs centers took credit for finding work for thousands of people who did not seek help from the centers.


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 joined the agencies. Louen was fired two weeks ago.

The state DEO launched an investigation in January when the Times asked questions about CareerSource hiring figures. The U.S. Department of Labor and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement have since joined the inquiry.



Amid CareerSource controversy, allegations of a love affair, big raises and family favoritism at the top

Mark Puente

Zachary T. SampsonTimes staff writer


Published: February 16, 2018

Updated: February 16, 2018 at 02:34 PM


The anonymous letter described a possible love affair at the top of the local jobs center.

President and CEO Edward Peachey was in a romantic relationship with top administrator Haley Loeun, it said.

It described how Loeun was seen at a conference coming out of Peachey’s hotel room at 2:30 a.m, and how they often acted like a couple inside the office — drinking out of the same soda cans and “touching … in front of staff.”

The three-page letter also outlined issues with other staffers and the condition of the building.

“We are just asking for HELP!!!” stated the letter, which arrived at a county commissioner’s office earlier this month. “There needs to be more oversight.”

Peachey would not talk about the relationship. Loeun, the business services director, denied to the Tampa Bay Times that they were romantically involved.


“I have a professional relationship with him and consider him a close friend; he is respected by me and numerous other employees,” she wrote in an email.

What’s not in question is that Peachey has signed off on four substantial raises for Loeun in four years, as she rose to the highest levels of CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay, payroll records show. Her salary ballooned from $47,554 in 2013 to $130,000 last year, making her the agencies’ second highest paid administrator, behind only Peachey.

Also not in dispute: Peachey approved the hiring of three of Loeun’s relatives since 2014. Loeun even gave one of them a performance evaluation.

Peachey told the Times that all hires go “through the same process.”

“I approved the hiring of everyone,” he said. “But I do not conduct the interviews, and I do not make the decisions.”

The two job centers already face local, state and federal investigations into whether they exaggerated reports of how many people they helped find jobs. Now, Peachey and Loeun’s close ties, and the hiring of her relatives, have agency board members questioning whether the two leaders have unfairly rewarded people based on personal connections.

Sandy Murman, the Hillsborough County commissioner and agency board member who received the letter, said that kind of behavior would be “totally improper in the workplace.” Murman found the letter to be credible, even though it was anonymous.

“For me a huge issue is that if other employees are watching this going on, what are they thinking?” she said.

  • • •

Peachey, 54, has led the Pinellas County jobs center since 2003 and took over the Hillsborough County agency in 2010, tasked with cleaning it up after a spending scandal. The agencies are two of the state’s 24 CareerSource programs, which receive millions in tax dollars each year to help train and place people in jobs.

Loeun, 41, joined the Pinellas career center in 2004, according to her personnel file. The year before she had graduated from Troy State University with a degree in business administration. Loeun was a recruiter for several years, connecting job seekers to employers, and later became a program coordinator.

In 2013, Peachey approved her promotion to director of economic services and increased her pay from $47,554 to $80,000.

The next year, he signed off on another raise from $80,000 to $95,000, the personnel file shows.

In June 2016, he bumped her salary to $110,000.

Last year, HR director Alice Cobb recommended in a letter to Peachey that Loeun’s base pay be bumped to $130,000, saying Loeun had consolidated the business services staff at the agencies in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, increasing her job responsibilities.

After bonuses and cashing in paid time off, Loeun grossed $179,822 in 2017, according to the payroll records.

In recent years, Peachey has repeatedly given her positive performance reviews.

In a letter offering her a raise, he wrote that she had “consistently exceeded expectations” and praised her for “diligence and dedication.”

Loeun “has a knack for making good business decisions,” according to a review signed by Peachey in December 2016, and “is a great team builder.”

  • • •

In her time at the center, Loeun said, she and Peachey have become close but not romantic.

More than a dozen staffers said Peachey and Loeun are always together and are often seen coming and going from the office.

Geoff Newton, a recruiter who left the agency in 2017, said Loeun and Peachey’s romantic relationship “was no secret.”

“We were all aware of it,” he said.

Three of Peachey’s St. Petersburg neighbors told the Times that Loeun was frequently at Peachey’s home. They said they often see Peachey and Loeun in the yard with a dog and two children. Loeun is a mother of two from a previous marriage, according to court records. One neighbor identified her by name.


In 2015, Loeun went through a divorce. Her ex-husband told the Times he has long suspected she left him for Peachey.

“What more can I say?” said David Loeun. “They’re still together.”

  • • •

As Loeun rose to the top, three of her relatives got jobs at CareerSource.

Voter records and the CareerSource payroll connect Loeun and her three relatives — Earl Alcover, Huey Nguyen, and Howard Nguyen — to the same address on Merrimoor Boulevard in Seminole. It’s also the same address Loeun listed in her 2015 divorce case.

The anonymous letter sent to Murman described Alcover as Loeun’s brother-in-law. Current and former CareerSource employees described Huey Nguyen as Loeun’s sister and Howard Nguyen as her brother. Loeun, however, would not confirm exactly how she is related to them.

Alcover was hired in 2014 as a resource specialist. Peachey wrote him an offer letter dated the same day as his application. Loeun later promoted him to business services recruiter, according to an email in his personnel file.

Alcover’s wife is Hieu Nguyen, according to his job application. She lists her address in voter records as the same Merrimoor Boulevard home in Seminole that Loeun lists as her address in CareerSource payroll records.

Alcover, 30, earned $56,250 last year, the payroll records show. He previously worked as an assembler at a medical technology company in Largo until 2013, according to the application. Before working at CareerSource, he was a busser and server assistant at Olive Garden. The resume included with his application listed an associate of arts degree from St. Petersburg College, but a spokeswoman for the school says he never graduated.

In 2015, Huey Nguyen, 45, joined the agency. She is now the coordinator of YouthBuild, a CareerSource program to help at-risk teens learn the construction trade. She earned $69,300 last year, records show. She declined to comment when reached at her office.

Nguyen did not fill out a line in her job application about whether she had relatives at CareerSource.

Last May, Howard Nguyen, 28, started working at CareerSource as an intern. He was later hired as an IT specialist and earned $20,195 working part of the year, records show.

In a brief phone call with a Times reporter, Howard Nguyen confirmed that Loeun, Huey Nguyen and Alcover were his relatives. He then hung up, saying he could not talk to a reporter. On his application, he checked “no” for the question about whether he had relatives who worked for CareerSource.


More than a dozen current and former employees have called or emailed the Times complaining about how the agency hired Loeun’s relatives.


The anonymous letter sent to the Hillsborough commissioner stated that Loeun’s relatives had “almost taken over” CareerSource.

  • • •

Loeun isn’t the only one with relatives in the CareerSource offices.

Lindsey Cobb, 35, the daughter of human resource director Alice Cobb, joined the agency in 2015. She is now a placement specialist, earning $49,681 in 2017, up $10,000 from the year before, according to CareerSource records. She previously worked as an administrative assistant at the Florida Reptile Room, according to her job application.

The women list adjacent Plant City address on payroll records. Lindsey Cobb described Alice Cobb as her mother in her application and listed her as an emergency contact. Neither responded to requests for comment.

The elder Cobb joined the local CareerSource offices after she was ousted as the chief operating officer at the job placements center in Orlando amid a spending scandal.

The CareerSource employee manual is open-ended about family ties in the office.

“Relatives of employees and non-related members of the same household will be considered for employment on an equal basis with other applicants for those positions where neither relative would be directly or indirectly supervising or checking the work of the other,” the policy states.

Ultimately, according to the manual,the president and CEO should review any promotions, transfers and hiring offers to people with relatives in the office or who live with someone from the agency.

Board members who oversee the two local CareerSource agencies said they were concerned about the family ties.

Several told the Times they did not know about Peachey and Loeun’s close relationship, or that CareerSource had hired three of Loeun’s relatives.


“It is under investigation,” CareerSource Pinellas chairman Jack Geller said about the family ties. “The appropriate action will be taken when it’s decided.”

Pinellas County Commissioner and former CareerSource board member Ken Welch said the relationship “fits into a pattern of unacceptable behavior.”

“Whether they have a written policy or not, it brings up obvious questions of conflict of interest, and to me it merits further investigation,” he said.

Murman, the Hillsborough commissioner, said CareerSource should have strict anti-nepotism policies and was especially bothered by the family connections.

“That’s just not appropriate,” she said. “That could lead to all kinds of issues of credibility and fraud — who knows?”

Times senior researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Zachary T. Sampson at or (727) 893-8804. Contact Mark Puente at or (727) 892-2996.



Editor’s notebook: Returning mentors passionate about connecting, getting insight


By Alexis Muellner  – Editor, Tampa Bay Business Journal

Feb 16, 2018, 3:00am


I spent the bulk of our annual Mentoring Monday event talking to participants to learn what the event meant to them. I went searching for common themes that could be useful to readers and especially leaders looking to help their teams be successful, retain strong people and help women grow their careers.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman has been at all five local Mentoring Monday events and believes it’s her responsibility to reach out and help women she meets become successful. To help, she taps her own relationships.

“I connect them to help them get the job they are dreaming about,” she said, saying at each event she experiences consistent post-event follow-up with four to five women, opening doors to real opportunities.

This was the fourth year for New Market Partners CEO Joy Randels. Like Murman, she gets satisfaction from making a connection after the event with at least one woman to someone in the business community who can help them professionally.

“You have to learn to live vicariously through the success of others,” she said. “Once you become a manager of people and you are not the one just living on the front lines, it cannot be about you anymore.”

Mentor, author and speaker Debbie Lundberg utilizes the event to learn what the job force is missing.

“I remember that from last year that many of the women I talked to all have these skills that they could not necessarily market,” she said. To find the skills they can sell, she asks mentees, what are they most proud of? “They need to utilize skills they have, No.1, as a confidence builder, and No. 2, learn how to position those skills and third, know how to bring it all together.”

USF Health’s Director of Community Relations Joanne Sullivan is a returning mentor and sees her role as helping women get excited about goals, and to be a good listener.


“The best advice I got from a mentor was to stop talking so much,” she said. “It’s not about you, it’s about them and it’s amazing what happens to you when you stop thinking about yourself.”

For Polk State College’s CIO and VP of Strategic Innovation Naomi Boyer, there isn’t a mentee that she works with who isn’t also a mentor to her. “I work alongside with them and then I have the chance to communicate and relate to them so it’s a learning process.”

Alexandra McKeever, business development representative at Datavision, was a mentee this year. Because she’s new to the IT world, she sought advice on building the right relationships.

“I’m looking to know the best way to make connections and see which ones made [the mentors] successful and what they might change if they could do it all again.”

For Conversa Managing Partner Arlene DiBenigno, the event is all about giving back.

“We have a responsibility. To whom much is given, much is expected,” she said.

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