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Local officials express concern over CareerSource merger

Mark Parker



While Hillsborough and Pinellas County Commissioners will vote on the consolidation of their workforce development agencies, the decision now rests with the governor. File photo.

Despite potential negative impacts on local job seekers, state leaders are moving an initiative forward to consolidate Pinellas and Hillsborough County’s workforce development agencies.

CareerSource Florida officials discussed the matter during a Feb. 23 board meeting in Tallahassee. The merger is part of a mandated effort to reduce the state’s number of CareerSource boards from 24 to 16, 19 or 21.

Steven Meier, interim CEO for CareerSource Pinellas, told the Catalyst that he and agency representatives would attend a local legislative delegation meeting Monday afternoon. Meier relayed his planned public comments to lawmakers.

“I stand by what I told our staff last week: If this consolidation comes to pass, there is no reason to expect we will repeat the difficult history of the last time we operated as one board,” Meier said. “But it is important for people with influence over this decision – such as yourselves – to understand how strongly our leadership team, board members and stakeholders recommend against putting the two counties back together.

“We have several board members and partners here who can provide their own insight as to why CareerSource Florida would be making a big mistake if they move forward with this.”

The two agencies split in September 2018, just a few months after the board fired Ed Peachey, the joint CEO. Extensive reports emerged that summer that Peachey inflated job placement numbers to receive significant bonuses.

The U.S. Department of Labor ordered the career centers to repay $4.3 million in March 2022. If consolidated, Meier said the agencies “have new leadership and accountability in place, and we are determined to serve our job seekers and employers with excellence now and in the future.”

However, he added that CareerSource Florida’s report ignored several important community characteristics that would make a merger detrimental to stakeholders.

Since they operate in the same Enterprise Flordia region, the report assumed that the organizations cooperate on economic development issues. He noted there is no regional agency, and the Tampa Bay and Pinellas County Economic Development departments compete with one another.

In addition, the state’s report outlined that the counties share a planning council and the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority (TBARTA). Meier will remind lawmakers that TBARTA did not achieve its goals and will disband by the end of the year.

“This leaves us without a regional transportation agency and minimal public transportation options between the two counties,” he said. “Low-income job seekers or people whose job searches are constrained by childcare are largely confined to our county (Pinellas) and unable to commute to Hillsborough for work. Our staff reports that many of our customers do not travel outside of Pinellas and may have never even been to Tampa before.”

Steve Meier, interim CEO of CareerSource Pinellas.

The CareerSource Florida meeting agenda stated that one agency would not assume the other. Instead, the initiative would dissolve both boards and create a new, combined governing body.

The efforts stem from the Reimagining Education and Career Help (REACH) Act, signed into law in 2021. Lawmakers passed the legislation to streamline Florida’s career resources and create a more efficient talent pipeline.

Pinellas County’s leadership expressed displeasure over the consolidation at a Feb. 23 work session. Administrator Barry Burton said the change would make it harder for local job seekers to receive individualized attention.

“It does concern me greatly,” Burton said. “And I know it concerns a lot of people.”

Commissioner Chris Latvala, a former state legislator, relayed that the lawmakers who introduced the REACH act are no longer in office. He said CareerSource officials adamantly opposed the legislation, “and so, I think that there may be some retribution of sorts.”

“Because there were so many bad local CareerSource boards,” he elaborated. “But we didn’t say, ‘hey, this one needs to merge with this one. I think now they’re maybe taking that into account with some of their recommendations.”

Commissioner Renee Flowers said the two counties possess “intrinsic differences” regarding location and workforce development. She added that the rationale for the merger has varied and said she would discuss further details with her colleagues during a commission meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Although CareerSource Florida’s board voted to consolidate the two agencies, the public, county commission and lawmakers can still weigh in on the matter. While it is early in the process and details are still emerging, the initiative would also likely need the governor’s approval.








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    Shirley Hayes

    February 27, 2023at7:54 pm

    Please do not do this. The differences between Pinellas and Hillsborough counties are like day and night. To consolidate job searches for the two counties is ridiculous. Please ‘scratch’ this idea and never ever bring it up again.

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