For years, Edward Peachey has bragged about the number of jobless people he has helped find work.
As president and CEO of CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay, he’s in charge of the two main government agencies that provide training to the unemployed and help them land jobs. And as Peachey likes to tell people, his agencies routinely lead the other 20 similar programs around Florida in job placements, according to numbers he reports to the state.
The non-profit boards who supervise him have rewarded him financially based on those numbers. He was paid $464,000 in 2016, more than almost any other public figure in the region.
Peachey makes more than Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gaultieri, who is paid $163,000 and oversees 2,700 employees. He makes more than the $260,000 Hillsborough County administrator Mike Merrill is paid, who sets a $5 billion budget. And he makes more than Tampa International Airport CEO Joe Lopano, who is paid $394,000.
"I did not know he was making that much money," Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist said of Peachey. "Pay is commensurate with authority, responsibility and liability. He’s not running an international airport."
Peachey is paid more than any of his counterparts around the state. In most cases, much more.
His staff’s salaries have also jumped during his tenure.
Now the Department of Economic Opportunity wants to see if Peachey has been inflating his numbers, the same numbers he has trotted out to convince his bosses he is worth paying so much.
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Peachey, 54, has led CareerSource Pinellas since 2003. In 2010, he agreed to take over CareerSource Tampa Bay in Hillsborough County after a spending scandal forced out the prior leader.
At the time, he was making a combined $189,517 from both jobs, an amount that has shot up 145 percent with his seeming success.
A small subset of the Pinellas County CareerSource board negotiated Peachey’s last contract with him in 2015. They discussed how to justify his salary.
Board member and hotel owner Lenne Nicklaus-Ball said she wanted to pay Peachey as much as possible because of his record, according to an audio recording of the meeting.
"Ed does a great job," Nicklaus-Ball said. "He works like 70 to 80 hours a week, maybe 100. We’re way ahead of everyone. Ed knows where the state is going."
But board chair Aundre Green, an executive at General Dynamics Ordinance and Tactical Systems, questioned the 16 percent raise and additional 20 percent for running two boards.
"I don’t want to be faced with questions from either the board or from the press," Green said on the recording, "and have us in the position of where we can’t answer them."
Peachey urged Green to consider how the agencies routinely top the leader board compared to the other programs around the state when it comes to job placements.
"That’s what you have to look at," he replied. "Are we doing what the state and feds want us to do? Are we effective? I think the answer to that is yes."
Attempts to reach Peachey for comment Friday and Saturday were unsuccessful.
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The two offices received a total of $32 million in 2016 in mostly federal money to help people find work, a number than has declined by $6 million in the past three years as the economy has recovered.
In those same years, both agencies combined have reported helping place more than 126,000 people into jobs, according to a state database.
The boards that set Peachey’s salary include volunteer representatives of business, labor and education, and one county commissioner. County commissioners approve those appointments.
The Pinellas board has 44 slots and Career Source Tampa Bay currently has 29 members.
Both agencies operate under rules set by the state and federal government and report their job placement numbers weekly to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
Pinellas commissioners recently began questioning the lack of information they receive from Peachey. They noted that he routinely gives them names of candidates to put on the board, without offering their qualifications and said he never shows up to answer questions.
"I’ve been on this commission for five years," said Janet Long. "Mr. Peachey has never come to us to advocate for any of the things that they are doing."
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Peachey is given wide latitude on how he runs the agencies and is in charge of setting salaries and duties for his employees.
The number of people who work at both agencies was not immediately available, but Peachey placed it at 300 during the 2015 contract negotiations.
Figures for both show payroll has increased sharply even as demand for services has declined. Annual audits each CareerSource regional office files with the DEO show that the payroll for the agency rose by $3 million, to $14.5 million between 2014 and 2016.
Job placements actually fell in both counties by 17 percent in the last three years. Grant levels from the federal government fell as well, by 22 percent in Hillsborough.
"I am concerned about the transparency and accountability of the process," said fellow commissioner Ken Welch.
Meanwhile, his board members pay Peachey as though he’s working two full-time jobs.
Pamela Nabors, the CEO and president of CareerSource Central Florida, which includes metro Orlando and serves a population similar to Pinellas and Hillsborough, made $186,000 in 2016, an amount that had only increased by $5,000 in three years.
CareerSource Northeast Florida, which serves a slightly smaller population, paid its CEO $148,000 in 2016.
Late Friday, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s Office of the Inspector General launched an investigation days after the Tampa Bay Times asked about whether the Pinellas and Hillsborough career centers had properly reported job placements.
The amount of federal money the agencies receive is determined, in part, by the number of job placements they report.
Contact Mark Puente at [email protected] or (727) 892-2996. Follow @MarkPuente