Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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CareerSource Florida Crown: State Says “No Mas” Loses Confidence in the Leadership of FL Crown

FL Crown Atty. Guy Norris

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The top management at CareerSource Florida Crown again demonstrated its dysfunctionality this past Wednesday when the organization's IT Director, Ron Jones, couldn't get its special meeting to kick off on time.

Those attending online did their part by joining through the online Microsoft Teams portal, either Zoom-like on the screen or by calling in on their phones. The screen was lit up with attendees and phone numbers, and everything was ready to go at 11 am, the meeting's advertised start time.

Attendees from FloridaCommerce, CareerSource Florida, board members, and members of the public logged into the meeting. Then, the Florida Crown IT broke down and couldn’t get the meeting running.

 “Can you hear me? Can you hear me? We could hear them before. If you can hear me, hang up and call in again. We are going to have to disconnect and start again. What’s the password? Can you hear me? I don’t think they can hear us anymore. They could hear before…

Zoom screen of April 3 Board meeting
Folks were stacked up waiting for the FL Crown meeting to begin. It didn't begin on time, once again demonstrating that FL Crown is not ready for prime time.

And so it went, with Florida Crown’s Number 2, Ron Jones, restarting everything and once again demonstrating the chaos surrounding him and the top brass of the Florida Crown organization. After almost 15 minutes had passed, the meeting was back online. It was unknown how many folks had been lost.

Board Chair Eugene Dukes announced that electronic and technical problems had delayed the start of the meeting. He didn’t mention that the problems were human problems. The damage had already been done.

Consortium Chair (the Consortium is made up of one commissioner from each county in the four-county FL Crown region) Sharon Langford said from her phone, "Okay, I can hear him (Chairman Eugene Dukes) now. But I think a lot of a lot of people got off the call.”

They did drop off, as later in the meeting, when FL Crown Board member Larry Thompson asked if anyone from FloridaCommerce was on the phone, there was silence. The only person left from CareerSource Florida was Garrick Wright, the Executive Program Director.

FL Crown Couldn’t Get the Meeting Notice Right: Nothing New

Florida Crown's IT Director Ron Jones
Florida Crowns number 2, Ron Jones, failed to get the Board meeting started on time. No one reset the clock to daylight savings time.

The meeting notice requirements for FL Crown are not discretionary. They are mandated by Florida Law (Chapter 189). “The governing body of an independent special district shall advertise the day, time, place, and purpose of any meeting other than a regular meeting… at least seven days before such meeting."

This time, FL Crown got the seven-day requirement correct, but the purpose of the meeting is nowhere to be found. Meeting notice requirements have been problematic for FL Crown. The last time your reporter brought this up during a meeting, Florida Crown’s attorney, Guy Norris, ran cover for his clients. “You found out about it, didn’t you,” he said.

More Problems

On March 29, 2024, your reporter received a copy of a letter written by FloridaCommerce to the Florida Crown Consortium members, the Board Chair of North Central Florida CareerSource (Alachua County), and Florida Crown’s Executive Director Robert Jones.

The correspondence was addressed to Consortium Chair Sharon Langford.

Columbia County Commissioner Robby Hollingsworth received a copy via email and certified copy.

A copy was not sent to Florida Crown’s Board Chair Eugene Dukes.

It was obvious from the tone and content of the correspondence that the upper echelons of FloridaCommerce and CareerSource Florida had their fill of Florida Crown.

The subject of the correspondence said it all: Specific Conditions, Fiscal Controls, and Sanctions.

FloridaCommerce didn’t mince words:

FloridaCommerce and CareerSource Florida have lost confidence in the leadership at CSFC (CareerSource FL Crown). CSFC's leadership has been unable to adequately explain its deteriorating financial condition, failed to start its financial audit for the period that ended June 30, 2023, and has not executed the Executive Committee of the CSFC Board of Directors' direction to cooperate with CareerSource North Central Florida (LWDB 9) for LWDB 9 to assume the fiscal agent role."

Moving forward, FL Crown would only receive grant funds on a cost reimbursement basis only and would have to submit invoices and canceled checks as verification.

FloridaCommerce and CareerSource Florida weren’t playing.

The state demanded that FL Crown cooperate with those providing technical and management assistance, including any fiscal and administrative agent(s) designated by FloridaCommerce, to continue providing services in the FL Crown region.

Page two of the letter outlines the FL Crown financial requirements.

The letter concludes:  “… Once appropriate and adequate steps have been taken to restore CSFC’s ability to appropriately manage its finances and adequately execute its duties and responsibilities, FloridaCommerce may remove CSFC from cost  reimbursement status.”

The letter was signed by the Deputy Secretary of Workforce Services at Florida Commerce and the President & CEO of CareerSource, Florida. Any response was to be directed to Caroline Womack, the Chief Financial Officer of FloridaCommerce.

Florida Crown had more than just financial issues. FloridaCommerce and CareerSource Florida recognized this with its concluding remark:

 "adequately execute its duties and responsibilities."

See part IV: CareerSource FL Crown: A Malaise That Goes Deep Below the Surface. Sexual Harassment Redefined - Ignored, Whistleblowers Will Be Caught & Fired

Board and staff members in attendance for April 3 Board meeting
The April 3 Board meeting. Those in attendance clockwise from left: Board member Larry Thompson, Consortium member Robbie Hollingsworth, Board member Lester McKellum, staff member Marilisa Reed, Exec. Dir. Robert Jones, Ron Jones, Board Chair Eugene Dukes, FL Crown Atty. Guy Norris, Board member Alonzo Philmore.

Executive Director Robert Jones Kept the FloridaCommerce Letter In His Vest Pocket and off Wednesday’s April 3 Special Meeting Agenda

On March 28, Exec. Dir. Robert Jones posted the special meeting agenda to the Florida Crown website. This appears to be the first time since he became Executive Director that the agenda material was available for review with any lead time. He did not ask the Board Chair to review the agenda before publishing it.

It appeared the purpose of the meeting was to reinstate the Exec. Director and staff’s credit cards, which they cut up and left with their keys when they walked out, quitting without notice on March 11.

See: CareerSource Florida Crown – MUTINY: Under investigation by Florida Workforce’s top financial investigator, exec-dir - board staff exit en-masse

March 29 was on Friday; the noticed meeting was still five days away. This was plenty of time for Exec. Dir. Robert Jones to amend the agenda or notice that the agenda would be amended with a discussion of the March 29 letter, which could have been posted to the FL Crown website.

The March 29 FloridaCommerce letter remained top secret. Neither the letter nor its substance was added to the agenda when the meeting was called to order, and the agenda was approved five days later.

Before the April 3 meeting got under way, your reporter asked Florida Crown's IT Assistant, Roy Armstrong, for a copy of the agenda packet. (the packet is the agenda with the backup material) and was told it was "just for the Board members."

Credit Card Reinstatment
The Quitters Want Their FL Crown Credit Cards Back

Chairman Dukes called for discussion on the credit card reinstatements.

Twenty years plus Board member Larry Thompson asked why the credit cards were canceled. Mr. Thompson attended the March 13 special/emergency meeting when Exec. Dir. Jones announced that he had quit and said he wasn’t sure about coming back, but would think about it. Marilisa Reed also announced, through crocodile tears, that she had quit.

Chairman Dukes explained that the Exec. Dir. and the staff quit, and First Federal canceled the credit cards.

Board member Alonzo Philmore wanted clarification.

Mr. Dukes explained that they were required to notify the bank that those people were no longer employed.

Mr. Philmore wanted a further explanation.

Mr. Dukes said, “We can't have people having access to a credit card or access to an account if they are no longer an employee."

Board member Thompson took issue, "I got an issue with the reason they were canceled. Did you take it upon yourself to cancel the credit cards?"

Mr. Dukes said FloridaCommerce directed him to cancel the cards.

Mr. Thompson wanted to know if Ms. Womack [FloridaCommerce] was on the phone.

Apparently, Ms. Womack had better things to do than wait around for FloridaCrown to straighten out its IT issues.

Mr. Dukes said, "If you're not employed, you shouldn't have access to a [FL Crown] credit card."

Mr. Thompson said, "The Board had not accepted any of the resignations," adding, "It's my understanding they [credit cards] were canceled immediately."

Mr. Thompson was right about that. The credit cards were canceled as soon after the mutiny as possible. Nothing in any FL Crown rule, regulation, legislation, or code requires resignations to be approved by the FL Crown Board. This wacky “accept the resignation” concept is something that has been systemic in Columbia County and Lake City. Resigning without notice is what all the quitters did and something they agreed and conspired to do.

Board Attorney Guy Norris, who had been touring Ireland during the FL Crown melee, spoke up [abridged]: I don't think it was unreasonable to follow the directive of the Chief Financial Officer of FloridaCommerce to notify the bank that people had resigned and had credit cards. The bank canceled the credit cards. The bank presently stands in the position of being willing to reinstate the credit cards.

Mr. Norris continued: And as far as I'm aware, there's been no board action whatsoever with regard to the resignations. I also don't know that acceptance of the resignations is something that is required by the Board. [It's' not. Ed]. "The Board cannot engage in indentured servitude. When someone says, I quit; when you say, 'Well, I'm not going to accept your resignation,'' isn't that akin to saying, 'I'm forcing you to work for me?'" "I don't think that the board chairman acted unreasonably... There was this mass exodus."

Mr. Norris continued talking and talking. He mentioned FloridaCommerce said Florida Crown is in a deteriorating condition and theorized it may be a “categorizing event caused by the former auditor and the current auditor not doing their auditing work in exactly the same way.”

Mr. Norris added, “I do not believe that the Florida Crown staff has misappropriated money.”

On March 7, 2024, during the Florida Crown Executive Committee meeting, Florida Crown's Finance Director, Jeff Geering, explained some of the things that Florida Crown could pay from unrestricted funds. See: If a fund is unrestricted, it doesn't mean you can pay for anything.

Some of the things mentioned were not legal and it has been alleged that Florida Crown was using Exec. Director Robert Jones’ relative to cater those events.

Florida Crown record-keeping makes it impossible to tell from the Florida Crown meeting minutes which board/staff member is attending the meetings in person and who is virtual. It appears from the March 7 minutes that Mr. Norris was MIA.

Attorney Norris said, “I've had communications with representatives of FloridaCommerce and CareerSource, Florida. Ms. Langford [Consortium Chair] was on that call with me. Part of the reason for this letter of March 29 is because their position is that the staff is in chaos. That's their words.”

Mr. Norris continued, Florida Crown “has not been cooperative in communicating with the Alachua County folks to make the transition for the fiscal agent purposes. I don't know what's what… I'm hopeful that what we can have during the board meeting constructive communications about that.”

Florida Crown is consolidating with Alachua County. It is the law. Florida Crown doesn’t like it. Alachua County doesn't appear to like it, but the process must be completed by July this year, as the state has mandated it.

The Board got back to the credit card reinstatement issue. Board member McKellum thought that was already decided rather than discussing it. That was understandable with the Guy Norris walk into the weeds.

Mr. Thompson said he was in favor of reinstating the credit cards, but was concerned they would get a bill and not be able to pay for it.

Board member Chris McCusker, online from Union County, said he was in favor of reinstating the credit cards, but never received a copy of the March 29 FloridaCommerce letter. Mr. McCusker said he thought the Board was waiting to hear from FloridaCommerce or CareerSource.

It wasn't clear who was waiting for whom. Judging by the past looks on the faces of CareerSource and FloridaCommerce, they sure looked like they had had enough of Florida Crown and its drama.

Veteran Board member Thompson said, “I personally have enough faith in the administration here not charge the cards until we know we got - unintelligible.”

The "administration here" are the people who quit and walked out, ignoring their contract and personnel policy and any obligation they may have had to the rest of the employees and the folks who used the services of Florida Crown.

Chairman Dukes mercifully called for a vote, but it was not to be. The Board now wanted to amend the motion. They did, but it wasn’t clear what they did. Then they did it again, adding the names of everyone who walked out and quit, ensuring they got their credit cards back.

Executive Director Robert Jones gave a quarterly report

Your reporter again asked IT Assistant Armstrong for the agenda packet. He provided it. The March 29 letter from Ms. Womack was now attached to it.

The Auditor Doesn’t Want to Get Stiffed

James Moore and Company are the auditors for Florida Crown. James Moore sent an email to FL Crown stating that they thought, considering the circumstances, the Alachua County auditor should do the 2024 FL Crown audit as well as the FY 2023 audit because that audit “had not really started yet.”

James Moore said that if FL Crown wanted to continue with the firm, they would have to pay upfront “due to the increase risk associated with the engagement.”

The James Moore correspondence was by email, and James Moore wrote: "With regard to the 2023 audit, we were notified of the attached letter addressed to CareerSource Florida Crown stating that Alachua (Region 9) will now be assuming responsibility as the fiscal agent over CareerSource Florida Crown due to the negative fund balance present at the Organization.”

The email was included with the backup material. The letter referenced by James Moore was not.

Board member Larry Thompson, an outspoken supporter of Robert Jones and his staff (the staff that quit), was silent on the whereabouts of the missing letter.

FloridaCommerce’s Caroline Womack sent an email, included in the packet of backup material, explaining that the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) does not allow for “payment of goods and services not received.”

While James Moore must have known FL Crown could not pay in advance, the Exec. Director Robert Jones and Finance Director Jeff Geering should have known that pre-payment is not allowed and should not have needed Ms. Womack to tell them. Nonetheless, it didn't make any difference as James Moore saw the handwriting on the wall and dug in, emailing FL Crown on March 25, 2024, that in order for James Moore to do the audit, "it would need the fee paid upfront due to firm policies surrounding this engagement."

The emails are not the whole story.

Jeff Geering, FL Crown’s Finance Director didn’t show up at the meeting and did not appear to be online to answer questions. Nobody from FL Crown seemed to know where the funds came from to pay the auditor or how much the audit cost. If FL Crown followed the tenets of the subrecipient agreement, the contract would have been posted online, and everyone could have looked at it.

Board member Larry Thompson asked how much the audit cost. No one from the Florida Crown staff knew. However, Exec. Dir. Robert Jones took a stab at it, “I would say, approximately 20 to $25,000 for the audit.”

Board member Larry Thompson said, “So another question for Ms. Womack. And I haven't heard you respond, Ms. Womack. So, you're probably not on the line. But a question I'd like to get answered is if we have unrestricted funds, why can't we use a part of those and then get reimbursed for that after the fact because the audit is an important thing.”

The FL Crown Finance Director should have been able to answer Mr. Thompson’s question, and so should the Executive Director, who worked at one time as head of FL Crown Finance.

Someone listening in offered to pay for the audit.

FL Crown Exec. Dir. Robert Jones
Florida Crown Executive Director, Robert Jones

Consolidation with Alachua County, Finally

After spending an hour reinstating the credit cards, trying to figure out how to pay for an audit, and going over the budget, the Board finally got around to the elephant in the room: consolidation of FL Crown with Alachua County.

Executive Director Robert Jones told the Board: “For some reason I was kind of given -- asked to write an interlocal agreement, which – that would help with the fiscal agent part of everything. And in looking at that agreement that they gave to me as an example, I saw no real correlation between that and what we have in our interlocal agreement now. So, and plus I'm not an attorney. It's kind of hard for me to put those words into an agreement when normally I know when Flagler, Volusia, and Brevard -- it took their attorneys two months to do it. And so as far as I know of, based on what I was told, that when the individuals on February the nineteenth met with the different counties, they were saying that the county attorneys will be responsible for driving those interlocal agreements.”

Exec. Director Robert Jones did not say what agreement he was looking at, who gave it to him, when he received it, and if he ever mentioned it to the Board, Consortium, the attorney, or anyone else.

Board member Larry Thompson mentioned he was looking at an interlocal agreement that he thought might have come from FloridaCommerce.

It didn't. It was the draft interlocal agreement prepared by Alachua County, and it appeared to have come from Ron Jones, FL Crown's number 2. It is not clear if Larry Thompson was the only one who received a copy from Mr. Ron Jones. It was not in the agenda material. Attorney Guy Norris asked for a copy.

Mr. Thompson said the agreement cut expenses, and the savings could go to "serving our customers."

Mr. Thompson said the agreement was being forced on Florida Crown, “But I think if we do it in a way that is cooperative, then we can stand a better chance of having a good result for our customers.”

Columbia County’s Consortium member, County Commissioner Robbie Hollingsworth, said, "If we're not missing anything, it doesn't sound that bad.”

There was a lot more talking. The Board agreed to turn over whatever was needed to FloridaCommerce, CareerSource, auditors, or anyone who could help to straighten out the financial mess.

The Board agreed that all four County Attorneys would work with Florida Crown Attorney Guy Norris and come up with an interlocal agreement of their own. This was something that could have begun last year.

The Board agreed that the four county interlocal would have to be modified to accommodate that Alachua County will now be in charge of the finances of Florida Crown.

The Board agreed that if they don’t work this out, the governor will step in and work it out for them.

sneaked agenda add
The added addition to the April 3 FL Crown agenda, posted sometime after the conclusion of the meeting. The space where FL Crown got the date wrong could have been used to announce when it was added.

Epilogue: Can FL Crown Be Trusted?

The FL Crown Agenda Packet was posted to the FL Crown website on March 28, and the agenda packet was emailed by FL Crown to some people on that day, your reporter not being one of them.

Throughout this article, the March 29th letter from FloridaCommerce, a letter from the state of Florida, basically reading Florida Crown the riot act, was kept unavailable by FL Crown’s Executive Director and his staff.

Executive Director Robert Jones had five days from the time he received the March 29 letter to update the FL Crown posted agenda to include the letter. He didn’t.

After Wednesday’s April 3 meeting concluded, someone from Florida Crown uploaded a modified agenda to the Florida Crown website. This agenda included the FloridaCommerce letter. There weren't any notes or any indication that the agenda had been modified after the conclusion of the Board meeting. It was just there like it had been there all along.

Can Florida Crown be trusted? You be the judge.

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