State zeroes in on CareerSource Pinellas head for high turnover, toxic workplace
Jennifer Brackey is under the microscope. Again.

Jennifer ART
'This is a very serious matter,' says Pinellas County Commissioner Rene Flowers.

The embattled leader of Pinellas County’s public job agency is now under scrutiny from state officials.

On Friday, a top official of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity demanded that CareerSource CEO Jennifer Brackney explain how she plans to run the troubled agency with high staff turnover amid a recent investigation that called the job center a toxic workplace.

Brackney has 15 days to reply to the state. She could not be reached Friday for comment.

The letter comes days after Florida Politics detailed a host of new allegations about an agency that has been under an FBI investigation since 2018. That investigation came after 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 ongoing, records show.

In late October, Brackney came under another investigation after an employee filed a 41-page whistleblower complaint. The employee accused Brackney of inflating job placements and creating a toxic work environment by improperly treating employees.

An outside investigator, which cost the agency up to $20,000, found no proof of inflated placements but found high turnover amid a troubled workforce.

Adrienne Johnson, a DEO deputy secretary, zeroed in on how Brackney runs the troubled agency and provides services to the public.

Among other things, Johnson asked Brackney how she deals with complaints from employees, job seekers and the public. Johnson asked if Brackney had notified the center’s oversight board.

“If so, what action has the Board taken to investigate and resolve any of the stated concerns?” the letter said.

At the urging of CareerSource Pinellas board Chair Barclay Harless, the oversight panel hired an outside law firm to investigate the allegations.

The letter also said 22 employees had left CareerSource Pinellas since 2020. Another high-ranking employee quit Friday, an agency source told Florida Politics.

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

Johnson also wants answers on how the short-staffed agency can still provide “continuously” needed services for Pinellas residents.

“What are your strategies to address any weaknesses in your service delivery model, if any? Johnson wrote.

Brackney could face more questions Tuesday when the board’s compensation committee will meet Tuesday to discuss a 5% raise to her $189,000 salary.

Harless, also a member of the compensation committee, was the lone board member to vote against the raise.

Harless told Florida Politics on Tuesday that he opposed the raise because of high turnover in the agency.

Harless urged all board members to attend the meeting.

“The character of this organization and our responsibility to our employees matters,” Harless told board members in a letter, “As was mentioned by Florida Legislative changes this year, it is our duty to be “in the weeds” of the organization when necessary.”

Unlike in the past under Peachey, other board members are raising concerns about troubles at the center.

“This is a very serious matter,” Pinellas County Commissioner Rene Flowers, the vice-chair of the CareerSource board, wrote in a November letter to Harless, which she copied top Pinellas leaders. “The issues that occurred as a result of the previous leadership gives me pause, thus the need to be as clear and as transparent as possible.”

The DEO also sent a copy of that two-page letter to Brackney.

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.


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