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Tampa Bay’s CareerSource merger controversy continues

Mark Parker

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The St. Petersburg skyline as seen from downtown Tampa. County commissioners from both sides of the bay failed to appoint someone to oversee a consolidated workforce agency Tuesday. Photo by Mark Parker.

Four Hillsborough and Pinellas County Commissioners met Tuesday to discuss the embattled consolidation of Tampa Bay’s workforce agencies. The meeting nearly ended about 10 minutes after it started.

While the debate over who should oversee a merged CareerSource Pinellas and Tampa Bay (Hillsborough) eventually continued, the consortium meeting concluded with a stalemate. The group will meet again June 4 before a state-mandated July 1 deadline to name an interim – at a minimum – CEO.

The discussion was the first since an advisory committee’s top two choices to lead a consolidated entity rescinded their candidacies after a nationwide search. Pinellas Commissioner Chris Latvala questioned the process from its onset, and the consortium’s chairperson subsequently threatened to adjourn the meeting.

“A Pinellas County government employee asked for this meeting in April – it has taken four weeks,” Latvala said. “You do not get the privilege of having somebody accuse me of breaking the law, having her (Commissioner Renee Flowers) accused of having bad ethics and then say, ‘Ya’ll need to get over it.’ That’s not how this works, Madam Chair.”

Latvala admonished Hillsborough Commissioner Joshua Wostal for previously stating his opposition to CareerSource Pinellas CEO Steve Meier’s candidacy “from the start.” Flowers noted that Wostal asked for her recusal at a January meeting because she suggested Meier could serve in a transitional role.

Hillsborough Commissioner Gwen Myers, the consortium’s chairperson, bemoaned “rehashing” the events leading up to Tuesday’s meeting. Flowers said it was the first time they could discuss the process without violating Florida’s “sunshine” laws.

“From day one, this has been an issue of who said what,” Myers said. “This committee was not formed to deal with the petty stuff that I’ve been hearing. This is one of the reasons we’ve lost two candidates.”

Hillsborough Commissioner Gwen Myers (left), the consortium’s chairperson, threatened to adjourn the meeting soon after it began. Screengrab.

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

A consulting firm, Newland Associates, narrowed a nationwide search for CEO candidates to three finalists. Jinny Reitmann, executive director at Workforce Development Inc. in southeastern Minnesota, was the advisory committee’s top-ranked selection.

Reitmann withdrew her candidacy in a May 7 email due to a “number of reasons.” The committee ranked Kyla Guyette, president of Workforce Mid-South Inc. in Tennessee, second.

Guyette rescinded her candidacy due to a previous employment issue with CareerSource. The committee voted May 14 to let the consortium and the consolidated agency’s new governing board continue the CEO selection process without recommending Meier, the third finalist.

Wostal motioned for Meier and CareerSource Tampa Bay interim CEO Sheila Doyle to jointly oversee the merged entity while its board searches for a permanent replacement. Latvala and Flowers voted against the proposal.

Doyle and Michelle Zieziula served as CareerSource Tampa Bay’s co-interim CEOs from December 2023 until May 16. Doyle was the Pinellas agency’s finance director under Ed Peachey until 2018.

Latvala began questioning Doyle about that experience as a federal investigation found that Peachey oversaw a series of fraudulent acts that cost taxpayers $4.3 million. Wostal vehemently objected.

Latvala said he was a legislator when Peachey made a “mockery” of the once consolidated agency, “and that’s why we’re here.” Latvala noted that Doyle “may very well be qualified and do a wonderful job,” but she did not participate in the interview process.

Latvala then motioned for Meier to serve as the sole interim CEO. “Frankly, there’s not a lot of trust on our end,” he added. Wostal and Myers dissented.

Myers said the consortium would revisit the matter June 4 due to a lack of consensus. They did agree to cancel the contract with Newland Associates.

“I am hopeful that we can come up with something that will give certainty to staff because people are anxious …” Flowers said. “I’m hopeful that at our next meeting, we’re able to make some stronger decisions and get the ship headed in the same direction.”

 

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Mary

    May 29, 2024at7:50 pm

    As a current employee, I must say that it’s appalling and embarrassing to see county commissioners behave in such an unprofessional, condescending, domineering manner. Commissioner Meyer ran this Consortium meeting with only her wants and needs in mind. At no point did I hear her mention the best interests of the staff of these two workforce boards or the constituents that the staff work to assist. She continuously reminded the committee about how she was the Board Chair and she was going to run the meeting as she saw fit, which meant that if she didn’t agree with the way the meeting was going, she was going to put a stop to it and not let anyone else speak. Commissioner Wostol behaved like a child instigating an argument and then laughing in a derisive manner when he got the reaction he wanted, which was frustration from Commissioner Latvala. Commissioner Wostol needs to grow up or be removed from this and all other committees and boards. Commissioner Latvala lacked emotional maturity by playing into Commissioner Wostol’s evident instigation. Commissioner Flowers should be applauded by maintaining her composure and attempting to move the meeting forward by addressing the items brought forward. She was evidently attempting to conduct a professional exchange of ideas and was the only person that continuously voiced her concerns for the staff of the organization and the public that is served.
    Can everyone put their ego’s aside and focus on the work that needs to be done to be a successful and innovative Workforce Development Board? Bottom line, GROW UP and get to work. It’s not about each of you individually. Start thinking about what is best for the organization without thinking about what you want.

  2. Avatar

    Mazen abdullah

    May 28, 2024at5:35 pm

    It’s sad that this process is so weighted to benefit Hillsborough county and to kick Pinellas county aside. From the unprofessional manner commissioner myers demonstrated today as she attempted to shut down any dissenting voices to commissioner wostal, who needs to be removed from any association with this entity at all , as he sat and laughed at every question or proposal Pinellas county brought to the table. I’m embarrassed of these representatives as a taxpayer in Hillsborough county. Just completely embarrassed . Why try to push through someone that already was part of the controversy before especially since that person didn’t even apply for the position when it was just posted. Why is Hillsborough county afraid to let anyone see what they are doing? Seems like they have something to hide.

  3. Avatar

    J.G. West

    May 28, 2024at4:09 pm

    Sounds like it’s typical small county problems. No one trusts the other agencies, no one want to compromise or offer an olive branch. And for lack of a plan, trust and big fishes in little ponds behaving poorly, the people suffer. Is it any wonder people outside of Florida mock us?

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