Embattled CareerSource leader not stepping down

- The embattled leader of CareerSource, the taxpayer-funded job-placement agency at the center of multiple investigations, answered questions in public for the first time Wednesday, following an emergency meeting for the agency's Pinellas County branch.

Last Friday, Gov. Rick Scott wrote a letter urging CareerSource's boards of directors to meet immediately and take action in response to allegations of possible wrongdoing at the agencies Hillsborough and Pinellas offices.

The board of directors for CareerSource Pinellas held an emergency meeting Wendesday morning, at the end of which Ed Peachey, President and CEO of both branches, answered reporters questions.

Peachey said he does not have any plans to step down.

"Right now, I feel like my obligation is to the CareerSource Boards and to my staff and right now we are under a tremendous work load," he said. "People are working enormous amount of hours and burdened with a lot of stress and for me to not be there to not help them would be a major disappointment to me and I don't think that it would be in the best interest of either organization."

CareerSource Tampa Bay and Pinellas came under fire following multiple reports about how it reports its job placement data, along with questions about Peachey's salary.

State and federal investigators are trying to determine if CareerSource inaccurately reported its job placement numbers by taking credit for hundreds of jobs for which the agency had no hand in finding workers, including more than 600 jobs at the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told FOX 13 last week, "I think it is a scam in the sense of that it's erroneously funneling information throught the back door, through a back channel. That's my characterization of it. I think it is, from what I can see. Is it legally and criminally a scam? That's a different question."

In response to the sheriff's statements, Peachey said, "when we complete the reviews and investigations, we'll have a response."

During a series of questions from reporters, Peachey was also asked whether his salary, which is close to $300,000 according to his board of directors, is based on potentially-inflated job placement data.

"Again, I think we'll wait for the review and those types of things to come out, but there are a lot of things that factor into negotiation of my salary," he said. "We have almost 300 employees. I work for two separate corporations. We have a multituyde programs, things like that. So there is dozens of factors that go into why my salary is set at where it is."

The board ultimately decided to create its own ad hoc committee to look into the allegations.

Peachey's job, however, was a point of contention during the meeting, with at least two members, Jack Geller and Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard, telling others on the board Peachey should be put on paid administrative leave.

"I feel you can't do an impartial investigation when the person that's being accused is sitting in the office," Gerard said afterward.

"I think it's better for everybody if Ed would have stepped down and we put him on administrative leave during this period of time," said Geller, adding removing Peachey for now is not off the table. "Everything is open to revisit 24-7. This agency and the people we serve is our primary focus and nobody is exempt including the entire board, the county commissioners, anybody involved in this. We need to get to the bottom of it. We nned to own any mistakes we've and we need to correct them and correct them fast."

Several board members, however, said having Peachey temporarily step aside is premature.

"We immediately take action in areas we don't have enough information to take action in, I think would be the wrong step," said Mike Mikurak.

Other questions surrounding the agency include whether the job numbers are used to procure state funding.

Aundre Green, the chairman of the CareerSource Pinellas, said that's not the case.

"We believe and CareerSource leadership has reported that the agency does not receive funding based on placement. Instead, the funding is based on a formula that includes things such as substantial unemploment, the labor force, total unemployed, economically disadvantaged folks, excess unemployed, unemployment rate," Green said, adding he feels it's necessary to take action and was the first to suggest creating an ad hoc committee. "We want to make sure that there is no question about those placements are reported, if we are following federal regs or not." 

It's unclear what CareerSource Tampa Bay, which is Hillsborough County's branch, plans to do and whether the board of directors will also call an emergency meeting.

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