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Controversy clouds selection process for new CareerSource CEO

Mark Parker

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An aerial view of the Howard Frankland Bridge connecting Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties. Officials from both sides of the bay are working to create a consolidated workforce agency. FDOT photo.

The deadline to merge Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties’ workforce agencies is fast approaching, and local officials may have to restart the search for the first CEO.

An advisory committee’s first choice to oversee the consolidated agency – CareerSource Hillsborough Pinellas – no longer wants the role. Jinny Reitmann, executive director at Workforce Development Inc. in southeastern Minnesota, recently emerged as the leading candidate to serve as the new entity’s CEO.

Reitmann rescinded her candidacy Tuesday night in an email obtained by the Catalyst. She cited a “number and variety of factors” that led to the decision.

“Had this opportunity been available five years ago, or perhaps even five years from now, it may have been the perfect fit,” Reitmann wrote. “I’ve shared multiple times throughout this process that, for me, it’s all about the fit – both personally and professionally. While I believe I have the qualifications to be a great candidate for the position, I don’t believe it’s at this moment in time.”

In May 2023, state lawmakers set a July 1 deadline for local officials to merge CareerSource Tampa Bay with CareerSource Pinellas. A national search firm selected seven candidates to oversee the consolidated workforce agency.

An advisory committee chose then ranked three finalists at a May 2 meeting. Reitmann emerged as the favorite over Kyla Guyette, president of Workforce Mid-South Inc. in Tennessee, and Steve Meier, current CEO of CareerSource Pinellas.

The new agency’s governing board planned to vote on Reitmann’s selection May 30. Hillsborough and Pinellas County Commissioners must also approve the new CEO. However, comments from one elected official have left the process in doubt.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Joshua Wostal told his colleagues May 1 that he was against Meier “from the start.” Wostal also serves on the consolidated workforce agency’s board.

Wostal provided a prepared statement Wednesday morning regarding his previous comment. “The internal candidate was asked from day one … of his interest in the role. He stated he did not have an interest due to ‘having one foot out the door for retirement.’ This is the only reason he was not considered a viable selection.”

Three members of the combined agency’s new board expressed concern over a lack of transparency during the selection process at a May 2 advisory committee meeting. They all represent Pinellas County.

Steve Meier, CEO of CareerSource Pinellas, was the only internal candidate to oversee the new entity.

In addition, Meier offered the search committee a three-year commitment. In December 2023, Pinellas County Commissioner Renee Flowers advocated for Meier to serve in a transitional role due to his familiarity with the agencies and area.

Commissioner Chris Latvala, also a CareerSource Hillsborough Pinellas board member, said Wednesday afternoon that Wostal asked Flowers to recuse herself from the search committee and publicly questioned her ethics during a previous meeting. Latvala added that Wostal “had no basis for either accusation.”

“For Commissioner Wostal to now admit he was against a certain candidate from the beginning is the height of hypocrisy,” Latvala said. “He is engaging in the very behavior he accused others of doing. He has single-handedly muddied up this entire process.

“We owe it to the taxpayers of Pinellas and Hillsborough to find the very best CEO – in a timely and transparent manner – and do it without wasting taxpayer resources.”

Latvala said he called for the consortium, created to facilitate the merger, to hold a special meeting. He will ask for Wostal’s recusal.

Barclay Harless, a search committee member representing Pinellas, called Wostal’s comments “pretty irresponsible.” However, he does not believe it affected the selection process.

“This isn’t a Hillsborough versus Pinellas thing,” Harless said. “This is a brand-new organization, essentially. That is the lens I have been looking through during the process.”

He explained that the advisory committee authorized Scott Thomas, also from Pinellas, at the May 2 meeting to begin contract negotiations with Reitmann. Harless is unsure if the motion would allow Thomas to start those discussions with Guyette, the second-ranked choice.

Harless said Thomas called for a May 13 advisory committee meeting to discuss the next steps after learning of Reitmann’s decision. Harless could not predict how other members would want to proceed.

However, he noted that the committee was “nearly unanimous” in its rankings. Harless said that the decision came after nine public meetings since late January.

“As someone who has been there since the beginning, I have full confidence in the process,” he added. “And the search firm that we used. I’m very optimistic of the candidates that we’ve got – including Steve (Meier).”

After two high-profile departures, the CareerSource Pinellas board named Meier the interim CEO in February 2022. He assumed the permanent role in June 2023.

Co-interim CEOs Michelle Zieziula and Sheila Doyle lead CareerSource Tampa Bay, which serves Hillsborough. Former CEO John Flanagan resigned in October 2023.

“I did the best job possible in the interviews,” Meier said. “Unfortunately, the advisory committee felt the best candidate was somebody else. However, I am so proud of what we have accomplished … since I was asked to assume this position.”

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