Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance, Pinellas Worknet refusing to release public documents about taxpayer dollars

1:54 PM, Nov 28, 2012   |    comments
A 1,468-page maze of records is all local workforce boards have provided to 10 News.
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PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. - The agencies tasked with distributing millions of federal dollars to out-of-work and under-employed Tampa Bay residents are refusing to share public documents that show where those dollars are going.

The Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance (TBWA) and Worknet Pinellas, both under the direction of CEO Ed Peachey, have refused to cooperate with repeated public records requests from 10 News over the past five months.  Even Attorney General Pam Bondi's office has implored Peachey to cooperate to no avail.

Under FSS 119, the workforce boards are required to provide records to any requesting member of the public, including members of the media.

The 10 News Investigators began investigating TBWA in June following complaints of federal training dollars going to a company that wasn't eligible for it.  The 10 News report aired in September, raising questions about a lack of oversight at TBWA and with its vendor, ResCare.

ResCare took over operation of TBWA in July 2010 following employee misconduct scandals.  Peachey, the president of Pinellas Worknet, was tasked with leading Hillsborough's agency as well at that time.

Regional workforce boards often have budgets in the tens of millions of dollars, with large portions dedicated to training unemployed, under-employed, and employed workers.  In FY10, TBWA had a reported training budget of more than $7 million.

This past summer, the 10 News Investigators requested local workforce boards provide documents pertaining to Employed Worker Training (EWT) conducted by a questionable company, "Knowledge Quest."

While workforce boards in Polk, Pasco, Hernando, Sarasota, Hernando, and Manatee counties provided the information within several days, Peachey has failed to produce the documents from Pinellas or Hillsborough in several months.

In an attempt to eliminate roadblocks in getting the documents, the 10 News Investigators simplified their request in September to just "a spreadsheet or database of all EWT grants distributed the past 5 years" for Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.  But the agencies again failed to provide them.

On November 1, the attorney general's special counsel for open government, Pat Gleason, questioned Peachey about the failure to provide the records promptly, adding it was the public's right to know.

"Because the Public Records Law helps the public to determine how these dollars are being spent and keeps agencies accountable, this is also an important concern for all taxpayers in our experience," Gleason wrote in an e-mail.   "Thank you again for taking time to answer this question."

Peachey failed to answer Gleason's questions, only writing back, "You're welcome."

More than two weeks later on Nov. 16, Peachey finally provided the 10 News Investigators access to a single year's worth of Pinellas Worknet's general ledger.  But instead of providing the requested 14 pages of EWT data from FY2011-12, the agency printed out 1,468 pages for inspection.  The needle-in-a-haystack exercise raises more suspicions about the agency.

Later that day, the 10 News Investigators again requested the remaining four years of EWT grant data from Pinellas Worknet and five years from TBWA, but Peachey has yet to provide the information.

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