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Fasano Takes on Workforce Florida

By James Call

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-891926.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – A Florida Senator wants ethics standards for the regional boards that are supposed to help people find jobs. The measure passed out of a committee Friday. James Call reports the vote came after the chairman launched a blistering attack on his critics.

The twenty-four regional boards and their hundred one-stop shops to connect employees and employers was the idea of former Governor Jeb Bush. When the Legislature passed the plan in 2000, it was hailed as an innovative approach to workforce development. Ten years later though, Senator Mike Fasano is having second thoughts.

"When these were created under Jeb Bush and they were supposed to be the best things going, we are finding out these are not the best thing going in my opinion. I want to start looking at shrinking these boards. Maybe twenty-four is just too many. Maybe we need to shrink them and how we can have more oversight and who is going to be sitting on these boards in the future."

Fasano commented the day after two people were charged with fraud following an investigation into the Pasco - Hernando regional workforce board's handling of training grants. The comments illustrate a truth about the art of politics. When you criticize a politician, it is best to have your facts in order. They usually have a bigger megaphone than you and politicians make policy. They have the ability to make things happen. Word leaked out earlier in the week about what Fasano was up to. Regional board members sent e-mails critical of him, and Senator Fasano took some Tampa Bay board members to school.

"Critical of me and critical of our proposal, even though this bill hadn't been printed yet. His email is Monday, March the 15th. The bill that we have before us wasn't even printed until Tuesday, March the 16th. But yet he knew all about what was in this bill. Wish I had that kind of ability."

Fasano is a sixteen-year veteran of the Florida Legislature. He has the ability to run efficient meetings of the Transportation and Economic Development Committee. He's like a chef, slicing the legs out from under his critics while developing new recipes for delivering state services. He mentioned three emails from different regions of the state, and he used them to build support for his proposal.

"I guess maybe I don't have it, but he talks about the Chipola Electric Company."

Fasano is talking to Cynthia Lorenzo, Workforce Florida's state director.

"What's he supposed to do? I guess he's concerned because their board member is I guess from the Chipola Electric Company. Now if Chipola Electric Company is a public company or a private company, would we need to do something to distinguish the two?"

Lorenzo replied, "The legislation as it is has the exemption for public and nonprofit entities."

Fasano said, "Excellent. So it would not affect them at all."

What got Fasano's attention was a state investigation that found the Tampa Bay board, which received millions in job creation funds, spent money on expensive meals, hotels and entertainment. In one year, the twenty-four boards spent more than $600-thousand on food for their members. Fasano said board members should pay for their own food, and Senator Chris Smith agreed.

"When I served on the Children's Service Council in Broward, we would contribute I think $100 a member each year to have snacks and stuff at our meetings, which wasn't that bad. We paid for our own food when I was on the Children's Service Council."

Fasano wants to ban spending public money to feed workforce board members. The proposal would forbid boards from awarding contracts to businesses owned by board members and require the county commission to elect the local board chair. Critics complain that he is attacking volunteers serving their communities. Naturally, Fasano sees it differently.

"We've touched a nerve. We have asked the question that these board members, some of these board members, and it seems like many of these executive directors did want that question to be asked, and that is how many of your board members are benefiting personally, financially, from the contract that they have or their family member has with the board."

Fasano directed Lorenzo to find the answer to that question. He expects it may take a couple of months to compile a figure. The House has indicated that the two chambers may be able to find a middle ground on how to supervise boards, which were created to connect job seekers with employers.