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Florence Snyder: What does it take to get fired at DOH?

Lola Pouncey, a Florida Department of Health (DOH) “bureau chief” making $90,000 a year in “medical quality assurance,” set up a jewelry store in her state office. She commandeered state workers, state time, and state property in her for-profit business, according to the agency’s inspector general (IG), whose findings were available to DOH Secretary Celeste Philip well before the rest of us found out from Miami Herald reporter Glenn Garvin.

Seventeen days after Garvin’s story, Pouncey is still on the state payroll and baffled taxpayers want to know, “What does it take to get fired at the DOH?”

The IG found that Pouncey “knowingly and intentionally violated laws and agency rules.”  Worse, she tried to thwart the state’s investigation with “evasive and misleading” statements.

To her credit, Pouncey was willing to answer reporter Garvin’s questions. But DOH, like too many other state agencies, requires something approximating a papal dispensation for public servants who want to explain themselves to the public.

Garvin could not obtain permission to speak directly to Pouncey. Instead, DOH trotted out its $81,000 a year flack, Mara Gambineri, to inform Garvin that Pouncey was not fired, not suspended, just “counseled appropriately by her supervisor.”

More than 30 of Pouncey’s co-workers knew she was operating a “pyramid sales” operation. “Magnolia and Vine” jewelry and accessories were displayed in her office amid the medical quality she was supposedly assuring.

Garvin read the IG’s missive so we don’t have to and reports that Pouncey:

” … organized sales lunches known as ‘socials’ that often spilled into work time, recruited four other health department employees —some of them under her supervision — to become her sales persons, and berated them if they weren’t meeting their quotas. ‘You’ve got to get moving,’ one health department worker said she was told after her sales dipped. ‘You’ve got to get your $1,500 goal.’”

When her sales person approached Pouncey to discuss business, she would breezily declare, “OK, in that case, we are officially on break.” The rest of the staff quickly learned to stay away. “A couple of witnesses” told investigators that there were times when they needed to talk about health department matters with Pouncey “but did not because [she] seemed to be discussing jewelry with other employees.”

To avoid the distracting intrusions of health department affairs, Pouncey on at least eight occasions organized jewelry sales meetings at Tallahassee steakhouses. The meetings were scheduled for health department lunch hours, but often stretched into the afternoon workday, sometimes by as much as an hour …

“A couple of employees were told by supervisors they did not have to adjust their timesheet for the extra time spent at socials …

Some health department workers believed the socials weren’t exactly voluntary.

“Some felt if they did not attend the socials, they would not be seen as ‘team players’ … One new employee said she was told that it would be in her ‘best interest’ to attend because in the ‘boss’ is in the business.”

Pouncey could well be the least of the managerial problems at DOH, and Philip owes the public, and the employees Pouncey strong-armed, a better explanation than Gambineri’s “nothin’ to see here, folks.”

Written By

Florence Beth Snyder is a Tallahassee-based lawyer and consultant.

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