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CareerSource CEO resigns following whistleblower investigation

Mark Parker

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Jennifer Brackney addresses the CareerSource Pinellas Board of Directors following her resignation. Screengrab.

CareerSource Pinellas appointed Jennifer Brackney as CEO in November 2018 to guide the organization through a series of self-imposed adversities; Friday morning, the board of directors formally accepted her resignation following whistleblower complaints.

Chair Barclay Harless called the special meeting Friday to officially accept Brackney’s resignation and approve her severance agreement. Brackney will receive six weeks of severance pay totaling $21,747.14, along with $31,651.16 for 349 hours of unused paid time off. Per the agreement, CareerSource will provide Brackney a neutral employment reference that only includes her name, dates of employment and position.

Brackney’s resignation follows an investigation into a whistleblower complaint Harless received on Dec. 21, 2021. The complaint stated that on Oct. 22, Brackney asked an employee to remove a Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) compensation form from the CareerSource website – a violation of state statute.

“I just wanted to make note that it (the form removal) was really for clarification between the total compensation and the (IRS form) 990 – I felt that those should have been consistent,” Brackney said to the board.

“I just want to make clear that my salary was always posted on the website.”

Following the December complaint, Harless enlisted the help of an outside source to investigate the matter, per board policy. Patrick Hagen, an attorney in the Tallahassee office of GrayRobinson, led the investigation and presented his findings to the board at Friday’s meeting.

Hagen explained that on June 18, 2021, Tisha Womack, chief of financial management for the DEO, sent CareerSource a total compensation of leadership form, describing it as “expanded.” Florida statute requires CareerSource to publish the form for public viewing. Brackney approved the form, and it was published the same day.

Hagen said the form remained on the website until Oct. 22, when Brackney asked for its removal due to her concerns that the definition of “executive leadership” was unnecessarily broad. Steve Meier, chief financial officer at CareerSource, reached out to Womack with those concerns. On Dec. 7, Womack responded that the form was correct.

Hagen said the form’s initial removal due to confusion on what it should entail was not the focus of the whistleblower complaint.

“As I mentioned in the report, the IRS 990 form and the total compensation form – there is room for disagreement over the definition of executive leadership,” he said. “That’s really exemplified by some of the other CareerSource regions and how they included certain individuals … ”

The more serious issue arose when Womack stated the form was correct in December, yet it remained unpublished.

Hagen said he completed the investigation on Jan. 17, at which time the form was still not republished on the CareerSource website.

“I found that the whistleblower complaint was substantiated,” said Hagen. “The next day, after the report that I issued, the compensation form was published to the website.”

Brackney took Pinellas County’s official job placement service during turbulent times. In January 2018, the Tampa Bay Times published the first of a nine-month series of investigative reporting highlighting unlawful practices by the organization.

The reporting uncovered millions of dollars worth of fraud – including exorbitant salaries and bonuses and falsifying job placement statistics. Those articles culminated in CEO Ed Peachey’s ouster and a subsequent federal investigation. The federal investigation into Peachey’s actions is ongoing.

Brackney served as an aide to Peachey, and the board of directors subsequently tasked her with restoring integrity to the embattled organization.

Florida Politics reported another 41-page whistleblower complaint in late October of 2021 that accused Brackney of inflating job placements and creating a toxic work environment. According to its latest report, around 30 employees have resigned from the agency since July 2020. That prompted a letter from a DEO deputy secretary asking Brackney to address the weaknesses in her service delivery model.

Despite the reports and investigative findings, several members of the CareerSource board of directors offered their support of Brackney at the conclusion of Friday’s meeting.

“I want to thank Jennifer and publicly recognize her for taking CareerSource Pinellas through the storm that it was when she took the helm,” said Jody Armstrong. “That does not go unnoticed, and I am grateful for that.”

The board of directors approved Meier to succeed Brackney as interim CEO, along with a 7.5% boost in salary during his time in the role. The Pinellas Board of County Commissioners must approve the promotion before it becomes official.

 

 

 

 

 

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