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Merged Hillsborough, Pinellas workforce agency has a CEO conundrum

Mark Parker

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A CareerSource Pinellas job fair in February. The agency must merge with CareerSource Tampa Bay by July 1. Photos: Facebook.

The top two choices to lead a consolidated Hillsborough and Pinellas County workforce agency have withdrawn their candidacies after a nationwide search, and a state-mandated deadline is fast approaching.

An advisory committee did not give much consideration to the third-ranked candidate, CareerSource Pinellas CEO Steve Meir, at a special meeting Tuesday afternoon. The group, formed to recommend a consolidated agency’s first CEO, voted to let a new governing board navigate surrounding controversy and determine the next steps.

The 30-member board was supposed to appoint a CEO at its inaugural meeting May 30. State lawmakers set a July 1 deadline to merge CareerSource Tampa Bay (Hillsborough) and Pinellas.

“How can we make this work when we got a rejection now from the second candidate,” said Sean Butler, CareerSource Tampa Bay’s board chairperson. “We’re right back at square one.”

The new entity, CareerSource Hillsborough Pinellas, will service an area with roughly 2.5 million people. The agency connects businesses with qualified, skilled talent and job seekers with career opportunities.

The mandated merger created immediate concerns. Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton said consolidation would make it harder for local job seekers to receive individualized attention.

Commissioner Renee Flowers said the two counties possess “intrinsic differences” regarding location and workforce development. A year later, Hillsborough Commissioner Joshua Wostal said he was against Meir’s candidacy “from the start.”

Pinellas Commissioner Chris Latvala told the Catalyst May 8 that he would ask for Wostal’s recusal from the agency’s board. “We’ve had comments made in commissioner meetings that we probably could have done without,” said Scott Thomas, CareerSource Pinellas board chairperson.

“I think the fresh start is the route to go.”

From left: Pinellas County Commissioner Renee Flowers; Steve Meier, CareerSource Pinellas CEO; and Jason Druding, director of business services for CareerSource Pinellas.

After the meeting, Thomas called it disappointing to go “back to the drawing board” after months of work and meetings. He thought Jinny Reitmann, executive director at Workforce Development Inc. in southeastern Minnesota, was an “excellent choice.”

She was the top-ranked selection from the nationwide search. Reitmann rescinded her candidacy in a May 7 email due to a “number and variety of factors.”

The committee ranked Kyla Guyette, president of Workforce Mid-South Inc. in Tennessee, second. Barclay Harless, a search committee member representing Pinellas, said there “wasn’t a lot of detail” surrounding her subsequent withdrawal after the meeting.

“I think at this point, it’s just out of our hands,” Thomas said. “With the new board taking their seat in just a few days, it’s going to be their task now.”

He mentioned recommending Meier, the third-ranked candidate from a pool of seven finalists, to his colleagues. They did not entertain a motion.

Thomas, who has worked with Meier for years, expressed confidence in the current CEO’s ability to lead CareerSource through consolidation. However, he believes many stakeholders prefer an outside candidate.

“I think he (Meier) may very well be a candidate in the future,” Thomas said. “He’s done a great job with CareerSource Pinellas, and I think he – as well as a lot of people in Hillsborough – are going to be main assets as we merge these two entities …”

Harless said the four-person advisory committee, comprised of CareerSource board members from both sides of the bay, made significant progress in establishing new bylaws and selecting CEO candidates. He believes the new board is well-positioned to move forward.

Harless thinks the two agencies must function separately under one name and slowly assimilate following the July 1 deadline. He also explained that national candidates had several factors to consider, including relocation, at “warp speed.”

“It’s just been a very rushed process, which has nothing to do with this group,” Harless added. “It has nothing to do with the two counties. It’s been the timeline the State of Florida has put on us.”

He stressed that the advisory committee has performed transparently and to the best of their ability. Harless said the group is one of the region’s first to eschew regional rivalries.

He hopes the board doesn’t disregard their work and positive culture. However, Harless said he understands why some may want to start from scratch.

He also bemoaned the external drama throughout the process. Harless noted that those debates “have nothing to do with” CareerSource’s hundreds of employees and the thousands of people seeking job assistance amid soaring living costs.

“All the other external stuff doesn’t really matter – it’s just noise,” Harless said. “Whenever you’re making any sort of thought pattern, the population you serve is number one. The staff is number two.”

 

 

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Mario Rodriquez

    May 17, 2024at12:17 pm

    If you take the history of both workforce into consideration you would understand a desire for new blood to lead the new entity. Someone who does not have an agenda, who does not have any baggage, and does not owe anyone any favors would be a great candidate to lead this new entity. There are too many considerations to address, with experience in a workforce board environment being the most desirable trait in a candidate. Picking the most qualified candidate is more important than picking a candidate within the timeline. The merger will happen on July 1st with or without a CEO, but the political infighting and the disagreement over who should or should not be the CEO will only contribute to the negativity surrounding the state mandated merger.

  2. Avatar

    Tom Topping

    May 15, 2024at4:06 pm

    I’m quite surprised, considering the talent in the Tampa Bay region, that there would be a need to go outside of this area for a skilled, caring, and committed CEO for this kind of opportunity…especially considering the immediate needs of this community

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