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    WorkNet teams dig in to make changes

    Two groups take on the task of turning things around at the agency, and a new chief financial officer is named.

    By LISA GREENE, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published October 26, 2002

    Efforts to fix problems at the county's troubled welfare and job placement agency increased this week, as Pinellas County Administrator Steve Spratt pulled together a team of staffers from other departments to help make changes.

    The team helping WorkNet Pinellas will include an executive on loan from the state's work force agency.

    "The County Commission and WorkNet Board should appreciate that county staff has aggressively and thoroughly investigated complaints, and proactively analyzed financial reporting to detect problems earlier rather than later," Spratt wrote to commissioners and board members.

    Also this week, WorkNet's director, Bonnie Moore, said a new chief financial officer has been found to replace the previous director, who was fired. And a committee of WorkNet board members that will look into the agency's problems held its first meeting.

    Some county commissioners and Leroy Sullivan, chairman of the WorkNet board, praised the formation of the new team.

    "I think it's a good idea to get highly trained staff . . . to try to get a handle on what seems to be an ever-increasing number of issues," said County Commissioner Ken Welch, who also is vice chairman of the WorkNet board.

    County Commissioner John Morroni said the move is another example of Spratt's fix-it mentality to "improve our problems and make them go away.

    "He's come into so many issues. This is a step in the right direction."

    Those issues include a series of anonymous letters targeting Bonnie Moore, WorkNet's executive director; an Office of Human Rights report that said black employees are paid less than white colleagues; questions about preferential treatment in how a contract was awarded to a St. Petersburg church; and a report last week from county finance experts about serious bookkeeping problems at the agency.

    Some of those problems were because the agency's former chief financial officer, Kelly Brady, neglected her duties, county officials said. Brady was fired a few months ago after county officials said she falsely claimed to have a college degree.

    The new chief financial officer will be Ed Peachy, who now holds the same position for a workforce board in Ocala, Moore said Friday.

    Also Friday, the WorkNet board's new committee met. Committee members discussed how to handle future anonymous letters and whether Pinellas County should continue to manage WorkNet operations.

    Some board members said that the letters have received too much attention and that future such letters should be handled the same way that other letters to the county are treated. One board member said he understood other departments throw away such letters.

    While there is no formal policy, Spratt said that letters with specific allegations are investigated and that as public records, they are not thrown away.

    Board members also talked about whether the WorkNet board should be independent of the county. Some said county rules about competitive bidding and board approvals have made WorkNet's job more difficult.

    "The only reason this board is having to (ask for bid proposals) is because it's a county requirement," Sullivan said. "The county is a hired hand, my friends."

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