BY JENNIFER CABRERA / NOVEMBER 15, 2019
In response to a letter from the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) alleging that CareerSource of North Central Florida (NCFL) has misused funds and refused to provide records requested by the state, Alachua County Commissioners listened on November 12 to a presentation by Rusty Skinner, the CEO of CareerSource of Citrus, Levy, and Marion (CLM) counties on the organization of their board.
One big difference between the two boards is that CareerSource CLM hires employees directly. CareerSource NCFL contracts with a single company, known as an EA, to administer the agency. The lack of transparency in funding going to the EA is the source of the dispute with the state. (Commissioner Hutchinson is on the CareerSource NCFL board.)
Chestnut questioned the structure of the local board vs. other district boards (our local board is the only one who contracts out all of their staffing instead of hiring employees). He says he talked to the state Secretary of DEO, and they’re still having trouble getting information from the local CareerSource board.
County Attorney Sylvia Torres said our local board structure is unique, and the state DEO “is more comfortable” with the model used by CareerSource CLM and the others.
Chestnut said that DEO Secretary Ken Lawson told him that if information is not presented in a timely fashion, the state could shut down the local CareerSource board: “He seems to be very upset.” Chestnut said the DEO secretary wants the board to change its structure and that Alachua County needs to talk to Bradford County about it (NCFL covers Alachua and Bradford counties).
Hutchinson said the local CareerSource operation “works extremely well… as good as anywhere.” He said they’ve always had good people working there “and making it happen.” He went on to say that many of the disagreements with the state have been resolved, but he doesn’t know if that’s true for all of them. He’s not sure that changing the organization will solve the problems and said that the county needs to hear directly from the state. He added that he has “no tolerance for records that aren’t produced promptly and accurately.” The county has asked for copies of all records that go to the state.
The 3-year Interlocal Agreement between Alachua and Bradford Counties that establishes the CareerSource NCFL board expires in less than 90 days and must be renewed, so Commissioner Cornell moved that over the next 60-75 days, county staff work with the state to bring back recommendations regarding changing the structure and operations of the Alachua County Workforce Board. He also moved that the Alachua County Commission meet with the Bradford County Commission.
During public comment on the motion, Jeffrey Tate, volunteer board chair for CareerSource NCFL, said that their unique structure allows them to be nimble (“upsize and downsize quickly”). He said they’ve provided all requested documents and have done so all along.
Commissioner Helen Wheeler said it sounds like they’re trying to hit a moving target – that the new administration under Governor DeSantis is requesting different information than the board has provided in the past. Tate agreed that Secretary Lawson “has moved the goalposts.”
Tate also said he was surprised to receive a call from DEO Secretary Lawson; it “raised the hackles on [his] neck” because Lawson said he had a witness in the room. Tate said his callers normally set up phone appointments, so the unscheduled call surprised him.
Tate also said their costs per resident served are among the lowest in the state.
County Attorney Torres said the last she heard was that a large number of documents have been provided, but the local board has disagreed about whether they have to provide specific documents (tax returns for the EA, for example). She said her understanding was that some negotiations are still ongoing regarding which documents are needed to provide the information desired by the state.
Tate said they’ve provided all the documents on the list, but the state won’t agree that they’ve provided all the documents until they verify that they have all the information they want.
Frank Avery, CareerSource NCFL Executive Director, said that the board wants to work with the county commission. They want to preserve the things that have worked but recognize that some things will need to change. Avery also said it’s not unusual for priorities to change when state administrations change. He said they’re in continual communication with the state but haven’t received confirmation that the documents they’ve provided are adequate.
Chestnut said Secretary Lawson told him the county commission is the final authority, and he doesn’t want the board shut down. That’s his main concern. He said that, based on the comments from Tate and Avery, there may be some “personality conflicts.”
Chestnut added that during his conversation with Lawson, there were hints that since he was the chair of the county commission, he could potentially be charged or involved in a lawsuit if the state finds irregularities.
The commissioners decided to have county staff work with DEO and local CareerSource staff to make recommendations on what to do. The motion passed, but Cornell stipulated that if the DEO recommendation is different from the CareerSource NCFL recommendation, he would go with the state’s opinion.