CEO of embattled CareerSource Pinellas faces new accusations of ‘toxic’ workplace
Jennifer Brackey is under the microscope. Again.

Jennifer ART
The new accusations include inflating job placements and creating a toxic work environment.

The leader of the Pinellas County job agency that once misspent millions of taxpayer dollars is now facing scrutiny for how she treats employees.

Jennifer Brackney, CEO of CareerSource Pinellas, who earns $189,000 annually, came under an internal investigation after an employee filed a 41-page whistleblower complaint in late October. Among other things, the employee accused Brackney of inflating job placements and creating a toxic work environment.

Those are similar to the allegations that led to federal and state investigations of the agency in 2018 after the Tampa Bay Times exposed years of wrongdoings. At the time, Brackney was a top aide to then CEO Edward Peachey. He was fired and fell under state, FBI and U.S. Department of Labor investigations. The federal investigations are still ongoing, records show.

Brackney declined Tuesday to discuss the allegations or findings about her leadership.

At the urging of CareerSource Pinellas board Chair Barclay Harless, the oversight panel hired an outside law firm to investigate the allegations. Harless called a special board meeting Dec. 15 to review the investigation’s findings.

Harless reiterated the current board doesn’t operate like the board under Peachey.

“I told (the law firm) to follow the investigation to wherever it goes,” Harless said late Tuesday. “We are aware of the issues. The organization is working as it should.”

David S. Harvey, an attorney with Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, didn’t find that Brackney inflated job placements, the most serious allegation. Harvey found concerns with the way Brackney manages the public agency, which collects millions in federal tax dollars to help Pinellas’ most vulnerable residents find jobs.

Harvey interviewed numerous employees who each raised similar concerns about Brackney disrespecting employees. Some current and former employees didn’t want their names used because they feared retaliation, records show. Harvey wrote that a “significant majority” of employees said Brackney does not always treat them with dignity and respect.

“It is also apparent that the CEO may share her opinions (too frankly) on the performance of certain employees with individuals on her leadership team,” Harvey wrote, adding that Brackney denies the allegations.

“What the CEO may not realize is that many of her leadership team are longtime friends of these employees and do not appreciate hearing her unveiled criticisms.”

Harvey said a “toxic” workplace doesn’t violate laws but creates a negative environment. CareerSource should address the issues, he wrote.

“The investigation process did reveal a significant perception that such an environment exists and a concern that raising criticism of the organization or its leadership could lead to adverse consequences,” Harvey wrote.

In 2018, the Times reported that Peachey controlled the oversight panels and members rubber-stamped his requests for raises for himself and closest confidants. Board members rarely questioned Peachey’s decisions or the tens of thousands of fake job placements he reported to the state.

CareerSource Pinellas and its sister agency, CareerSource Tampa Bay, paid $3.1 million in incentives and bonuses in recent years to employees who helped them record more hirings than any workforce board in Florida, the Times reported in May 2018. At the time, Peachey earned almost $290,000 a year and kept all records off the agency’s website.

While Harvey investigated the allegations, board members on a compensation committee approved a 5% raise for Brackney, effective Dec. 1, 2021, records show. Harless was the lone member to oppose the nearly $9,500 raise.

“I felt that there have been too many resignations,” Harless said late Tuesday. “It’s not good that we’ve had that many.” He couldn’t provide a specific number of employees who left but called it significant.

Harless said he called another compensation committee meeting Tuesday for the panel to further discuss the issues.

As of September 2021, the agency employed 47 workers, with an average salary of nearly $55,000, records show.

When the CareerSource Pinellas board met Dec. 15 to discuss Harvey’s investigation, the meeting agenda, whistleblower complaint and investigative findings were posted on the agency’s website. The agenda did not — unlike all other meetings — list a way for the public to virtually join the meeting. Sometime after the meeting, the agenda disappeared from the website.

That changed Tuesday when Florida Politics emailed Brackney at 12:30 to ask why the negative report disappeared. It reappeared five hours later.

“It may have been accidentally deleted during the site transition over the past week,” Brackney said in an email.

Once the Times exposed CareerSource problems, Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls carried the mantle to provide more oversight of the state’s network of workforce boards. Sprowls celebrated the passage of legislation in April that mapped out a blueprint to overhaul Florida’s career centers. For decades, the centers operated with minimal oversight.

Mark Puente

Mark Puente is a former investigative and crime reporter at the Tampa Bay Times, The Plain Dealer, The Baltimore Sun and Los Angeles Times. His reporting on CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay led to numerous firings and reforms of the agency. Puente was part of teams that were finalists for Pulitzer Prizes in 2016 and 2020. He is now a freelance writer and operates Puente's Tijuana Tacos, a mobile taco stand, in Cleveland.


3 comments

  • Debbie A McKinney

    January 5, 2022 at 2:59 pm

    As I look back on my 11-year career here in Florida as a Career Counselor with the local workforce board, first off, I remember the success stories. I had many. I was able to actually help people. I loved my job because I got to watch a transformation in a person’s life.

    People would get let go from a job and the workforce board was there to help them get back to work. You apply for unemployment, if you needed help, someone in the resource room will assist. You must follow certain rules to collect your unemployment. You must show you are looking for work. We used to have workshops with topics like Targeted Resume class, how to job search, and Interviewing skills. There are so many programs offered. Some for people on Food Stamps or TANF (temporary assistance for needy families) We helped thousands of RN’s and LPN’s pay for their test and license fees after finishing school. Many free services available to anyone wanted to make their life better. We had Vet. Reps to assist our veterans. We would have reps from outside agencies- AAPR, Vocational Rehab, Coptic Charities to name a few. We had employers come in and accept applications and sometimes do on the spot interviews. We held job fairs. We had active youth programs and assisted with many people getting their GED. All of these and more were the intensive services provided. There was also a Business Service side that assisted employer’s list jobs and find qualified people to fill their openings. There were programs for On-the-job training, apprentice programs and programs to assist employers make sure their staff had up to date training.

    The program I worked with:
    Maybe you never had training in an occupation, or your occupation fell to the wayside with the onset of Technology. Maybe you were in a technology field that downsized, and now you need to update your certification that most employers are looking for in new hires. If you have tried everything but cannot get employed, the program that I worked with was the next step.
    I had people come into my office at their lowest, feeling like it will never get better. I would become their link to hope.
    I would take a person from filling out the application, registering them in school, staying in contact while they learned new skills, congratulate them upon graduation and assist them with finding employment with their new skills. We even followed up with them to make sure it was all working out. We helped pay for the training and required supplies. Low on income and need a gas card so you can get to school? We got you covered. I loved my job.

    2018 happen…. we found out that some parts of the organization were “cheating with numbers of some kind”. CEO was fired, investigations happen, and a new CEO took over. Much of what was being investigated had really nothing to do with what I did. Many of us didn’t even know what was going on. When it came out, we were in shock. We happily supported the new CEO and wanted nothing but success for her.

    After weeding out some people, she had a well-oiled machine of people who wanted nothing less than to do their job and HELP PEOPLE. Many of us with years of experience and knowledge of the state and federal rules that goes along with these programs. Anyone working in state and federal programs, knows how much red tape and knowledge is needed to get it right and stay on top of yearly updates and laws..

    The staff in 2018 was about 85 employees. They are down to 47 currently trying to handle the same, if not more, of a workload. Employees are stressed out with the amount of work required. Workshops are now online and contracted out- no workshops held over the holiday weeks, as if people don’t need them during that time. Support services have all been discontinued. Seeing someone for assistance- Good Luck, offices are open but hardly anyone there to help. The most Knowledgeable Employees are fleeing in droves and not being replaced. The turnover makes it so there are few people hired with any workforce background. Programs do not have the success rates of the past.

    There is a right way and wrong way to run a business… I will leave it at that…. but I will add, I am glad I was able to retire from there ALIVE. I left a couple month earlier than planned because of the stress level and workload at work. Over the last year (and more) I watched a good caring people leave because they couldn’t take her any longer. Our hands were tied when it came to actually doing what we were there to do. People need to demand the return of services needed and paid for but not provided.

    Thank you to the Whistle Blowers out there.. I know it isn’t easy. Also, a huge thanks to Mark Puente (news reporter) who has brought to light the problems in this organization- both past and present.

  • Debbie A McKinney

    January 8, 2022 at 12:54 pm

    It used to be that people looking for work would actually get help. Need a resume? We have an in person workshop for that.
    Need training? If Eligible, you got assigned a case manager who guided you through the process, held your hand while in training with encouragement and support services, cheered for you when you completed and handed you off to a recruiter who assisted you to find a job in your new occupation. NOW case managers verify applications, create vouchers for payment and spend the rest of their time locating customers to see if they found employment on their own so it can be reported as a success story. I cannot tell you how many hours I spend hunting down lost customers and their employment information. Why lost customers? Because nobody has the time to actually work with customers, assist customers, give them the support they need. Instead they are left on their own to find employment and many times they do and it is NOT in the field we paid for training in.
    On the job training program? It should be that employers are recruited and hire our list of customers to train with the intention of keeping them employed after training. Instead employers are recruited to tell us who might be eligible for the program after they are hired. Back date the start date of OJT to their hire date and pay the employer to train them. Most jobs ended after training. What a racket for employers to get free labor!
    Support Services, When people are looking for work or in training they need a little extra help to do the things we require them to do. Need a gas card to help with getting to and from school? WE want to make sure you don’t have road blocks to success. Support services are a thing of the past…. you are on your own!
    Employability Workshops. Resume, interviewing skills, filling out applications, how to use the program we offer to assist you. No more in person workshops! Go online and register yourself- self help only. Sometimes people just need to be in a room with other people going through the same issues. Interaction with those who are trained to help.
    The list goes on……

Comments are closed.


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