Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance, Pinellas Worknet continue to refuse to release public documents

3:14 PM, Jan 11, 2013   |    comments
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PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. -- The clock is about to hit seven months since 10 News first requested documents pertaining to how millions of federal tax dollars were being spent in Tampa Bay. But the public agencies tasked with watching over the funds still haven't been able to address where the money is going.

The Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance (TBWA) and Worknet Pinellas are in charge of distributing millions of federal dollars to out-of-work and under-employed Tampa Bay residents. Both agencies are under the direction of the same CEO, Ed Peachey.

But since 10 News exposed a contractor improperly collecting funds from TBWA in September, Peachey has repeatedly been unable - or unwilling - to indicate whether any other tax dollars wound up on the wrong hands. 

Requests for the public documents detailing agency expenditures have been rebuffed, even as Attorney General Pam Bondi's office has implored Peachey to cooperate.

Under FSS 119, the workforce boards are required to provide records to any requesting member of the public, including members of the media. Agencies are allowed to charge "reasonable" fees for labor in fulfilling the request, but Peachey quoted 10 News a $3,500 estimate for a list of Employed Worker Training (EWT) expenditures.

Last summer, the 10 News Investigators requested EWT numbers from all of the region's workforce boards, and the requests were quickly fulfilled - with no charge - for Polk, Pasco, Hernando, Sarasota, Hernando, and Manatee counties.  But 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.

The only documents 10 News has received pertaining to the request came in the form of 1,468 pages of general ledger documents from Worknet Pinellas, FY2011-12. Within an hour, the 10 News Investigators were able to find the 14 pages of EWT expenditures, but the needle-in-a-haystack exercise raises more suspicions about the agency.

This week, the attorney general's special counsel for open government, Pat Gleason, seemed baffled the request hasn't been fulfilled yet by the Pinellas or Hillsborough workforce boards.

"Clearly, as we all agree, agencies should as a policy matter facilitate rather than obstruct the public's right to see records relating to the expenditure of public funds," Gleason wrote in an e-mail to the governor's Department of Economic Opportunity, which oversees the workforce boards.

Gleason also indicated the workforce boards should have a better system to track the dollars they're entrusted with.

"If the records relating to the expenditure of those funds are maintained in a way that does not facilitate access to the records, perhaps the DEO can work with the agency staff to ensure that this is changed."


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