Tampa Bay jobs centers entered thousands of fictitious phone numbers in state network

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By Mark Puente and Zachary T. Sampson, Times Staff Writers

 

Published: March 21, 2018

Updated: March 21, 2018 at 07:37 PM

 

Every time the two local jobs centers help find someone work, the person’s address, birth date and other information is entered into a state database.

In more than a quarter of all their entries — more than 35,000 over a four-year period — CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource TampaBay included the same unusual phone number:

999-999-9999.

Most of the other 22 CareerSource offices in the state used the fictitious number fewer than 20 times a piece, state records show. In fact, two never used it, and two others used it only once.

The huge total of fictitious numbers is the latest revelation in the ongoing investigations into whether the two local agencies inflated their job placements figures or committed any crimes.

“There’s a pattern and practice of unacceptable behavior,” said Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch. “The Inspector General raised the strong possibility of criminal actions. It’s egregious. The evidence is strong.”

At a meeting Wednesday, local officials could not explain why CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay used the 999 phone number so often. They plan to investigate.

At the same meeting, the board of CareerSource Pinellas voted to fire the president and CEO of the agency, Edward Peachey, and offer him a settlement worth about $117,000 if he agrees not to sue the jobs center. CareerSource Tampa Bay made Peachey the same offer last week.

The firings come amid sprawling investigations from the state DEO, the U.S. Department of Labor and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Just hours after the Pinellas board’s meeting, DEO executive director Cissy Proctor sent letters to the chairmen of both agencies strongly urging them not to pay settlements to Peachey amid “allegations of serious misconduct and potential criminal conduct.” The letter did not mention the fictitious phone numbers.

“Should the conclusion of these investigations result in criminal charges, the boards’ decision to pay Mr. Peachey a severance package or a settlement package of six-figures could be viewed as a flagrant misuse of public funds,” Proctor wrote.

  • • •

Last month, the Tampa Bay Times requested information about how often all of Florida’s CareerSource agencies used the 999 phone number. On Wednesday, the DEO sent the information to the Times and the two local agencies.

From 2014 through 2017, CareerSource Tampa Bay, which serves Hillsborough County, used the number for 20,303 people who they reported helping find work. CareerSource Pinellas used it 15,418 times. In that same timeframe, the agencies reported a total of 126,633 job placements.

The CareerSource office that used the number most frequently outside the two Tampa Bay centers was CareerSource Palm Beach County, with 405 entries.

“It looks like somebody wasn’t doing their job properly, or they were trying to hide that contact information,” said Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard, who’s also a CareerSource Pinellas board member.

“It concerns me that there’s a big discrepancy,” said CareerSource Pinellas chairman Jack Geller.

The frequent use of the number in Pinellas and Hillsborough puzzled leaders from the state’s other career centers.

Anthony Gagliano, business and economic development director at the CareerSource office in Manatee and Sarasota counties, said his agency uses the fictitious phone number occasionally, when homeless people or others don’t have phone numbers. But he could not think of a reason why an agency would need to use the number thousands of times.

“There could be a legitimate reason for some cases,” said Gagliano, whose agency recorded the 999 phone number 56 times during the same four years.

Jerome Salatino, CEO and president of CareerSource Pasco Hernando, said it would be “very rare” to enter that kind of phone number into the system. His agency, for instance, used the 999 number just 18 times, the records show. In some cases, he said, people fill out their information themselves and might not want their personal contact shared. But the high totals for CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay clearly stand out, he said.

“That’s a huge discrepancy,” Salatino said. “That many of them doesn’t sound right.”

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman said the fictitious phone numbers represented just the latest issue in a growing list of controversies at the jobs centers.

State and federal authorities launched investigations after the Times began asking questions about how the two local agencies were reporting their job figures to the state. Since then, the Times has reported that both CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay took credit for getting jobs for thousands of people who never sought their assistance in recent years.

 

“It just seems like there’s a problem at every single step,” Murman said.

  • • •

Meanwhile, the CareerSource Pinellas board voted 15-1 to fire Peachey on Wednesday. The lone no vote came from board member Tom Bedwell, who then made the motion that Peachey should receive a settlement equal to five months pay and benefits.

“That’s the least we can do,” he said. The vote to approve the settlement was 9-6.

After the votes, board members said they were ready to begin rebuilding the agency. Their counterparts in Hillsborough had shared the same sentiment a week earlier.

Just a few hours later, the DEO took issue with the boards’ actions.

“Floridians deserve to know their hard-earned tax dollars are not going toward a severance or settlement given the ongoing investigations,” Proctor, the agency’s director, wrote in her letters.

She noted that the local CareerSource boards have not been able to provide a valid employment agreement for Peachey and gave them three business days to come up with such a document before DEO pursues “all available legal remedies to prevent state and federal funds from being used for Mr. Peachey’s severance packages.”

Even if the jobs centers produce an employment agreement, Proctor wrote, “DEO will disallow a severance or settlement package in light of these ongoing investigations.” She also expressed concern that the boards were trying to evade a law that could limit Peachey’s severance package by calling it a “settlement.”

“This thinly veiled attempt to skirt federal law governing severance payments would be entirely inappropriate,” she wrote.

The boards approved the settlements to be paid with private, unrestricted funds — not tax dollars. Dick Peck, chairman of the CareerSource Tampa Bay board, said he has to review the letter in greater detail and will likely direct the local CareerSource lawyer, Charles Harris, to call Proctor on Thursday to get clarity on next steps.

“We have to determine what the law is,” Peck said. “No taxpayer dollars will be used to pay Ed Peachey a separation or severance.”

Contact Zachary T. Sampson at zsampson@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8804. Follow @ZackSampson. Contact Mark Puente at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2996. Follow @MarkPuente.

 

More Information

 

The numbers

From 2014 through 2017, CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay used a fictitious phone number –– 999-999-9999 –– for thousands of job seekers. The state’s other 22 job agencies used the number only occasionally for homeless people or when others don’t have phones. Here is how the Tampa Bay centers compare to a few of the other agencies:

Agency # of times using 999-999-9999

CareerSource Tampa Bay 20,303

CareerSource Pinellas 15,418

CareerSource Palm Beach County 405

CareerSource Heartland 287

CareerSource Polk 180

CareerSource Pasco Hernando 18

CareerSource Central Florida 37

CareerSource Escarosa 0

 

CareerSource CEO’s firing now being questioned

 

By Fallon Silcox, Reporter
Last Updated: Wednesday, March 21, 2018, 8:52 AM EDT

 

PINELLAS — 

The future of Executive Director of CareerSource Pinellas Edward Peachy is now up for discussion once again.

CareerSource Hillsborough and CareerSource Tampa Bay have already voted to fire Peachy, who is accused of claiming more job placements than there actualy were. Now, CareerSource Pinellas will decide whether to fire him.

Peachy was actually fired once before, but a board member questioned it, so now the board will have to decided where his future lies with the agency.

State and federal investigations are currently underway against the former CEO of CareerSource Hillsborough and Executive Director of CareerSource Tampa Bay.

Peachey was voted out of his position by the board of the organization on Feb. 26, 2018 by a 6-1 vote.

Peachy was first suspended without pay by CareerSource Tampa Bay on Feb. 2 during an investigation into the agency possibly reporting more people placed into new jobs than it actually had.

Members of the CareerSource Pinellas Board voted to form a committee to investigate the matter days later.

On Feb. 21, members of the Hillsborough County Commission voted to demand Peachey resign or face being fired. However, the commission did not have the power to actually fire Peachey.

That power lay with CareerSource Tampa Bay’s board members, who voted to terminate Peachey without cause on Monday.

Hillsborough County Commission chair Sandy Murman was the only commissioner to vote against the measure. Her objection stemmed from Peachey receiving a severance package.

Now, CareerSource Pinellas’ board will decide whether to fire him, and whether he should receive any sort of severance pay.

Vice Chair and Pinellas County Commissioner, Patricia Gerard, said at this point, restoring trust in the organization is a top priority.

“Trust in the organization is zero at this point. We have a public trust to carry out. These are tax payer dollars and I hear nothing on the outside of that organization that tells me people want him back, or frankly, that they want the organization to continue operating like it has been,” Gerard said.

Moving forward, she says the board has a lot of work to do with restructuring the entire organization as they wait to hear back from the federal and state investigations.

 

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

MITCH PERRY

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.

 
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