Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance probe

5:23 PM, Feb 4, 2010   |    comments
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Tallahassee, Florida -- State Sen. Mike Fasano says his blood is boiling over revelations that a Tampa jobs agency used taxpayer money to buy $133,000 of food and beverages for its employees over a 13-month period.

Fasano says that money should have been used to help unemployed Floridians find jobs.  But instead the Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance spent the cash on $8,000 meals that included a dozen gourmet cupcakes at a cost of $50 and a $9 slice of cheesecake.

A state inspector general's preliminary investigation also reveals the agency hired a disc jockey and a comedian to entertain employees during a meal.

Sen. Fasano discussed the investigation during a Senate committee on Thursday and he called for the resignation of the agency's executive director Renee Gilmore.

Fasano calls it unacceptable to take tax money intended for unemployed people and spend it extravagantly.

"We're now finding out that the Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance Board, their executive director hired a disc jockey during one of their $8,000 dinners, hired a comedian for some reason, I guess she's claiming to boost the morale of the employees there. Well, why would you have to boost the morale of the employees when they're being fed very well during the day."

Gov. Charlie Crist's office has told all 24 regional workforce centers in Florida that they cannot spend any more cash on food or beverages. Those centers oversee Florida's One-Stop Career Centers, which help Floridians look for jobs and get training.

The centers are funded mainly with federal tax dollars and the federal government does allow reasonable expenditures for employees.

But Sen. Fasano says the spending habits at the Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance are not acceptable.

"Fifty dollars of gourmet cupcakes and a $9 slice of cheesecake is not reasonable. But we're going to be now putting in statute exactly what you can and cannot use those dollars for. They're supposed to be used for the purpose of finding people a job and training people for a job."

"It made my blood boil. The e-mails and the phone calls that I got to my office from constituents all around the state, they were outraged."

The state has already told the Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance it must pay back more than $24,000. The alliance has until February 22 to justify another $81,000 in questionable spending.

But Fasano says he thinks the investigation has just uncovered the tip of the iceberg so far and the agency will end up paying back a lot more money.

As a result of this episode, Fasano is drafting legislation detailing exactly how workforce agencies can spend their tax money.

Calls to the Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance were not returned.

Dave Heller, 10 Connects

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