The July 4th Knucklehead Marathon Part Six
Our sixth winner is the Southwest Florida Workforce Development Board and its Executive Director Joe Paterno. They get the award for the following.
A local job training agency accused of wasting federal taxpayer money has spent $450,000 on worker bonuses, sponsorships and resorts over the last two years, according to the nonprofit’s financial records.
The Southwest Florida Workforce Development Board paid $304,000 in bonuses — including $70,000 for its top two officers — another $38,000 to the Sanibel Harbour Resort & Spa for annual retreats and more than $100,000 in sponsorships to nonprofits, economic development groups and chambers of commerce.
The agency, which administers job training and counseling programs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties, has been buffeted by financial woes in recent months, since discovering last spring it was facing an almost $1 million budget shortfall. The latest blow came when a former service provider charged the board with lavish spending.
The Inspector General’s office of the state Agency for Workforce Innovation and the U.S. Department of Labor are investigating the complaint filed by the Workforce Council of Southwest Florida, another nonprofit job agency whose contract with the board was severed earlier this year. Those probes will determine whether laws or policies were broken and action is warranted. Officials declined to put a timetable on when investigations might be complete.
“Along with federal funding comes a certain degree of responsibility and accountability to taxpayers,” work force council Executive Director Mary Havener said in a statement in response to questions about the spending. “The code of federal regulations requires employees, providers and clients receiving government allocations to report suspected abuse, misuse or mismanagement of government funds. That's the law. Our grievance filing with the state's Agency for Workforce Innovation fulfilled what we believe to be our legal and moral obligations."
Southwest Florida is one of 24 regional workforce boards operating under the umbrella of Workforce Florida, Inc., a state agency that distributes federal money for job programs. The agencies operate independently under boards of directors made up of local business and government leaders.
Providing training and career counseling to people who’ve lost jobs because of shifts in the economy — such as the recent housing slump — or those losing welfare benefits are among the initiatives led by local work force boards. There’s an air of hypocrisy about such agencies spending tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on sponsorships and resorts, said Sandra Miniutti, spokeswoman for Charity Navigator, a New Jersey-based nonprofit watchdog group.
Workforce Executive Director Joe Paterno has declined to comment directly on the complaint, but said in an e-mail to The News-Press retreats such as those at Sanibel Harbour are justified. The purpose, he wrote, “is for the board’s committees biannually (sic) meeting to develop ... or amend their strategic plans and goals for the next two years.
“The strategic planning process has been generally accepted by both the private and public sector as a preferred method for ensuring desired outcomes are clear and on track with an organization’s primary mission and vision,” Paterno wrote.
Along with writing checks to Sanibel Harbour for $14,164 on Aug. 17 and $19,080 on Oct. 12, the board covered a $295 dinner tab for four staffers and their spouses at The Jacaranda, a popular Sanibel Island restaurant. The board paid another $8,474 in an April 12 check to DNC Parks & Resorts at Kennedy Space Center.
The board similarly racked up big money paying sponsorships— forking over $15,000 to be a platinum sponsor of the Economic Development Council, writing two $15,000 checks to the Horizon Foundation in fall 2005 and spring 2006 and paying almost $12,000 more for corporate and gold, silver and bronze sponsorships with other groups.
In addition, the board has paid $150,000 in bonuses to employees each of the past two years, with Paterno raking in a third of that money on top of his base salary, which was $114,821 last year.
Paterno said his bonus is determined by board President Steve Personette and the agency’s executive committee. Paterno decides the amount of staff bonuses after consulting with supervisors.
A job training agency thats better at spending money on itself than helping workers. That's all it takes to make Southwest Florida Workforce Development Board and its Executive Director Joe Paterno our sixth Knucklehead winners of the Day.
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