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Pinellas, Hillsborough officials establish joint workforce agency

Mark Parker

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A consolidated Pinellas and Hillsborough County workforce agency has a combined $36.1 million budget. A search for the new entity's president begins Dec. 11. File photo.

Local leaders comprising the newly formed Hillsborough/Pinellas Workforce Development Consortium have taken their first steps toward establishing a consolidated organization.

Several CareerSource Pinellas, CareerSource Tampa Bay and local government officials participated in the inaugural meeting Dec. 5. County Commissioners from both sides of the bay recently approved an interlocal agreement (ILA) – at state lawmakers’ behest – to merge the two workforce agencies.

The meeting took place in Tampa, although locations will alternate. The “working group” includes eight Hillsborough County and CareerSource Tampa Bay representatives and five Pinellas County counterparts.

“Hillsborough and Pinellas have … their own drivers when it comes to recruitment for corporations and businesses, small mom and pops and small techs that are moving into the community,” said Pinellas Commissioner Renee Flowers. “I’m hopeful that in our merger … that we work together but also keep that same personality if you will, because they’re a little bit different.”

A graphic highlighting the consolidated working group’s members. Screengrab.

The working group includes CareerSource Pinellas CEO Steve Meier and CareerSource Tampa Bay’s president, senior vice president and chief financial officer. According to background documents, that body will “continually serve as a resource to the Consortium in execution of its duties.”

Flowers and Commissioner Chris Latvala will represent Pinellas in the Consortium, with Commissioners Gwen Myers and Joshua Wostal representing Hillsborough. The chairperson and treasurer from each county’s workforce development board will comprise its advisory committee.

That includes Scott Thomas, regional human resources manager for ProMedica Senior Care, and Barclay Harless, senior vice president of Valley Bank, for Pinellas. Sean Butler, president of Titan Technologies, and Gary Hartfield, CEO of Serenity Village, represent CareerSource Tampa Bay.

However, many critical details remain undecided – including who will oversee a combined $36.1 million budget. Documents state that “the Consortium and Local Workforce Development Board will jointly undertake decisions … establish bylaws, approve the annual planning budget and designate an administrative entity and fiscal agent for programs.”

Ron Barton, Hillsborough’s assistant county administrator, explained that state formulas dictate allocated funding. CareerSource Tampa Bay boasts a $23.9 million budget, over double the Pinellas agency’s $9.4 million.

Barton said the Consortium would receive and disburse area-designated funding. He noted that the ILA mandates that “those dollars will be spent in those counties.”

“So, there won’t be any crossover unless there’s some compelling reason, and there’s a unanimous vote in the Consortium, to do something different,” Barton added.

A graphic showing local CareerSource budgets, employees and locations. Screengrab.

He believes the Consortium should keep the initial consolidation process simple. Barton said the new CEO and workforce board would discuss the new entity’s evolution.

Flowers asked if the Consortium would accept an internal candidate. Barton said the search is “wide open” to anyone who would like to “put their hat in the ring.”

Flowers said a candidate should understand CareerSource Florida, Pinellas and Hillsborough operations. She then urged her colleagues to consider Meier “because he is very familiar.”

“I think he’s planning on retiring in a year,” Flowers said of the CareerSource Pinellas CEO. “So, that will give us time to transition through 2024. And it will save us a couple hundred thousand dollars on the search …”

The once-conjoined agencies split in September 2018, a few months after CareerSource Hillsborough’s board fired Ed Peachey – the former joint CEO. Reports that he inflated job placement numbers to receive exorbitant bonuses emerged that summer.

In addition, Latvala, a former legislator, explained that state lawmakers soon realized that workforce agency issues extended far beyond Tampa Bay. He said several boards ignored “the simple task of helping our residents get jobs.”

The Florida Legislature passed the Reimagining Education and Career Help (REACH) Act in 2021, placing the state’s workforce agencies under additional scrutiny. In February, state leadership voted to consolidate the local organizations – to local stakeholders’ dismay.

Assistant County Administrator Kevin Knutson said CareerSource Florida uses poor examples of cross-bay cooperation to inform its decision at a subsequent meeting. Those included a now-defunct transportation agency.

“I would just suggest you look at the comments you’re getting today,” Knutson, now a Consortium member, said in March. “Because that’s not going to ring true to anyone.”

The group will receive state funding to assist with the merger. Members will discuss agency locations at a future meeting.

The consolidated board will feature 19 members. Consortium officials said the combined 227 employees would remain – for now.

The Consortium will open applications for a director/CEO Dec. 11, and Pinellas will host its next meeting Feb. 6. The new consolidated organization will take effect July 1.

 

 

 

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