Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news from Florida for working families since 2007

North Florida News

CareerSource Florida Crown: Alachua County Says 'No' To Providing a Life Ring

screen shot of Alachua County Commission, CareerSource North Central FL meeting
Screen shot of the Alachua County Commission, CareerSource North Central Florida meeting. Everyone who wanted to be heard was heard. No one appeared for Florida Crown.  +++ Enlarge

ALACHUA COUNTY, FL – This week, the CareerSource Florida Crown (Region 7) saga moved from Columbia County to Alachua County (Region 9). A series of events involving Florida Crown (financial investigations, a mutiny by the executive director and his staff, sexual harassment redefined, and state agencies that finally said ‘no mas’ and ordered FL Crown to turn over its finances to District 9 (Alachua)), put some of the problems of FL Crown in the lap of CareerSource North Central Florida, aka, Alachua County.

Background: How did we get here?

In 2021, The Florida Legislature passed House Bill 1507, establishing the Reimagining

Education and Career Help (REACH) Act. On June 24, 2021, Governor DeSantis signed the REACH Act into law.

The REACH Act did many things; one required consolidating some CareerSource regions in Florida. One of the consolidations was the combining of CareerSource Florida Crown (Region 7) into CareerSource North Central Florida (Region 9)

Acronyms & Information:

CareerSource Florida Crown: CSFC
CareerSource North Central Florida: CSNCF
FL Department of Commerce or Department of Economic Opportunity: FloridaCommerce
CareerSource Florida: CSF
CSFC Region 7 – counties served: Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Union
CSNCF Region 9 – counties served: Alachua, Bradford
Ernst & Young: EY: EY is one of the largest professional services networks in the world. It is considered one of the Big Four accounting firms. EY is Florida's advisor for the REACH Act.

In February 2023, CareerSource Florida and the Governor's REACH Office recommended reducing the number of local workforce development boards from 24 to 21.

The recommendation for reducing the number of local workforce development boards to 21 included consolidating six local workforce development areas and realigning two counties affecting four additional areas. These changes affected ten current local workforce development boards and the areas they serve. The state workforce board approved the changes as a recommendation to Governor DeSantis, who holds the authority for the designating and redesignating of the local workforce development areas.

One of the consolidations was the consolidation of CSFC and CSNCF.

Alachua County was not thrilled to be incorporating CSNF into the region. However, studies showed it made sense because of the CSNF region's proximity to Alachua and the employment patterns.

The main force in the Florida Crown region is Columbia County, one of Florida’s premier North Florida good ole’ boy counties, known throughout the region as the County 5.

Columbia County Commissioner Robby Hollingsworth
Columbia County Commissioner Robby Hollingsworth makes a point abouut FL Crown and the state mandated consolidation at the April 4 meeting of the County 5.

While all the other consolidations have been completed or are well on the way to completion (the deadline is July 1, 2024), the consolidation between Florida Crown and Alachua County has been problematic. The reason: Florida Crown is in turmoil, and the Columbia County Commissioner who sits on the Florida Crown Consortium (the elected – one from each county – officials who oversee the region) is admittedly clueless about what CareerSource is and does.

At a recent FL Crown Board meeting, Columbia County Commissioner Robby Hollingsworth freely admitted that he doesn’t know very much about Florida Crown, but he has all his knowledge from longtime board member and lifelong personal friend Larry Thompson.

What Does a CareerSource Region Do?

CareerSource regions do a lot, and Commissioner Hollingsworth and most folks don't know what their local or regional CareerSource region does because they don't need their services.

Local workforce boards help those who are down on their luck. Those who need assistance or temporary assistance, are unemployed, need food stamps, need to be retrained to be able to have meaningful employment, help folks find employment, offer training and retraining assistance, provide resume assistance, enhance interview skills, offer career counseling and referral to other programs, offer veterans services, facilitate youth programs, and more.

Lester McKellum, long time member of the Florida Crown board
Long time Florida Crown Board member Lester McKellum. Since the resignation of Executive Director Robert Jones, Mr. McKellum has not been signing checks. According to Board Chair Eugene Dukes, he has not been signing Florida Crown checks. It is unknown who is signing Florida Crown checks. (file photo)

Local workforce boards help existing businesses with worker training and retraining.

In Columbia County, the reputation of CareerSource Florida Crown, among other government agencies and institutions, is abysmal. Some summer youth programs get high marks, but the under-girth of those shows the same good ole' boy cronyism and dysfunction for which Columbia County is legendary.

Facilitating the work that a CareerSource region does is complicated. There are many moving parts and different revenue streams with their own rules and accounting. It takes experienced experts to navigate the financial and program sides of a CareerSource region.

Where is the Consolidation Between Alachua-Bradford (CSNCF) and Florida Crown’s Four Counties?

Florida Crown is in turmoil, and for over a year, while other regions were burying hatchets, compromising, and following state directives and guidelines, Florida Crown did nothing about consolidation, if you don't count chest-thumping, something at which Columbia County and its various factions are experts.

The state finally had it, and when Florida Crown couldn't get its act together enough to schedule a meeting to approve one of two options regarding the financial management of Florida Crown (the transferring of its fiscal management to Alachua County (CSNCF), the state chose for it. See. Part IV, CareerSource Florida Crown: State Says “No Mas” - Loses Confidence in the Leadership of FL Crown

Florida Crown eventually had a meeting agreeing to the FloridaCommerce/CareerSource arrangement.

However, that was followed by crocodile tears from Robert Jones, the now discredited Executive Director of Florida Crown, and more chest thumping and finger shaking by Columbia County's Robby Hollingworth, and an appearance by FL Crown Board member Larry Thompson in front of the Columbia County 5.

 Florida Crown is reeling, in disarray, the Executive Director is taking time off, and Florida Crown is now being run by Ron Jones, whose management style was defined by the Florida Crown's Executive Director:

There is significant, substantiated evidence of your use of your managerial authority in a manner, sometimes involving sexual overtones, but in numerous incidents which are unprofessional, inappropriate under any circumstances in the workplace, and which involves mismanagement of a nature that constitutes misconduct in office… Agency employees have described your managerial style as overbearing, belittling and condescending, creating an intimidating work environment among some subordinate employees. Multiple subordinate employees have described the workplace environment under your direct supervision as toxic.

The morale of Florida Crown's frontline workers is in the dumps. They are the workers who provide CareerSource services.

On Tuesday, April 9, the CSNCF Executive Committee met to discuss the situation regarding the financial supervision of Florida Crown by Alachua.

CSNF's Attorney, Rochelle Daniels, explained the CareerSource Board's position [abridged]:

FloridaCommerce, the State agency for the workforce system, and the Board of Florida Crown request Region Nine to act as an interim fiscal agent until the consolidation is formal. The Workforce Board and the county staff are recommending that we notify the state that we stand ready to assume the duties of the fiscal agent and administrating entity for the new consolidated six-county workforce effective July 1, 2024. But we are not recommending acting as the interim fiscal agent at this time.

Attorney Daniels explained that the liabilities associated with Florida Crown would not “translate over to us” (Alachua) and would remain with Florida Crown.

CSNCF's Executive Director, Phylis Marty, explained that Alachua's taking over the fiscal responsibility as requested had nothing to do with staffing problems but logistics (getting documents approved and signed) and the issues involved in the consolidation.

Ms. Marty’s sentiment was seconded by Senior Alachua County Attorney Dave Forziano, who said in relevant part, “There's not a lot of time for us to get it done. It's not even the staffing issue. It's just, there's just not enough time to do all this, but I'm gonna get it done. We'll be at the July 1 deadline for the consolidation to occur.”

The Executive Committee unanimously passed a motion supporting the staff recommendation not to assume fiscal responsibility for Florida Crown until after the consolidation is complete.

No one mentioned the impact on the frontline workers and their clients at Florida Crown.

No one from Florida Crown attended the meeting.

April 10, 3 pm: CareerSource North Central Florida meets with the Alachua County Commission to decide whether or not to accede to FloridaCommerce/CareerSource Florida’s request to take over the fiscal operation of Florida Crown.

At approximately 3 pm on April 10, Alachua County and CSNCF gaveled their joint meeting to order.

CSNCF Executive Director Phylis Marty presented the issue to the Board [abridged]:

This is coming before us as a request from FloridaCommerce and also the CareerSource Florida Crown Board to designate Region 9 as the interim fiscal agent on a temporary basis. Staff recommends that we notify the state that Region 9 is ready to assume the duties of fiscal agent and administrating entity for the newly consolidated six-county workforce region effective on or after July 1, 2024. Now, it's coming before the Board and the council for ratification and approval not to move forward as the interim fiscal agent but to stand ready to serve in our role as fiscal agent and administrative entity for the newly consolidated workforce region. I would welcome comments from county staff and questions from the Board and council.

Todd Hutchison, CPA, the Director of Finance and Chief Deputy Comptroller at the Alachua County Clerk's Office, weighed in. He said there were “concerns on the challenges that there would be to serve on an interim basis, but in the interim role.”  Mr. Hutchison said that all the grants, funds, and bank accounts were in the name of Florida Crown, and it would be problematic for Region 9 staff to walk in and take over.

Mr. Hutchison added, “We felt like that would take away the focus of trying to get the new consolidated entity up and running by July 1; even trying to take on that interim role, the legal steps to get there is gonna take 45, 60 days. This Board would be taking on a number of risks that we don't recommend you take on.”

Alachua County Commissioner Ken Cornell said, “Essentially, this recommendation is presuming that we can get to a meeting of the minds and get an interlocal agreement in place; then we are willing to take on these duties.”

Mr. Hutchison said Mr. Cornell was correct.

Alachua County approved the staff's recommendation to hold off on the fiscal takeover of Florida Crown until after an interlocal agreement was agreed upon.

The Draft Interlocal

Alachua County presented a draft interlocal to FloridaCommerce/CareerSource Florida. It is going through revisions. As soon as the revisions are worked out between Alachua and Tallahassee, Alachua County said it would share the interlocal with Florida Crown.

Senior Alachua County Attorney Dave Forziano weighed in with some thoughts after a question by Chair Mary Alford about the thought process of the County staff.

Mr. Forziano said, “You might recall that there was a little bit of distrust from our counterparts over at Crown. I believe your staff was trying to come up with some creative ways to appease some of their concerns that this is an Alachua County takeover of Crown; we don't view it that way. We view it as a merger to create a new region that will be governed according to a council and the local work workforce development board appointed by all the counties.”

Mr. Forziano mentioned that since the draft interlocal was prepared, “We’ve not received any formal feedback on the interlocal or on, I think, any of our proposals so far.” He added that he hoped that would change [once the interlocal comes back from Tallahassee].

Mr. Hutchison explained that Tallahassee was on top of the situation and reviewing the revised interlocal until 10 o'clock the night before. He said there was a successful Zoom meeting with the folks in Tallahassee earlier in the day.

Mr. Hutchison explained, “They expect to turn it [draft interlocal] around very soon. [Tallahassee] asked that we would, before transmitting it to the other counties, wait to receive their comments. And as soon as the county receives their comments, you know, we'll certainly attempt to incorporate as much as we can or have another -- we had a really good Zoom meeting with them this morning. The goal is to get it; we're all anxious to get it distributed as fast as we can, but we certainly wanna make sure we're incorporating all the suggestions that we can; that the state provides to us.”

Attorney Forziano added, “I don't wanna make it sound like we're waiting and waiting for the state. They, they just recently received it, so they've got to digest it, review it, and provide some comments back to us; hopefully, it meets their needs, and we can send it on over to the other counties.”

No one from Florida Crown attended the April 10 meeting.

Photo from April 12, 2024, FL Crown meeting that was disappeared from the FL Crown website
One month ago today on March 12, FL Crown held an emergency meeting. It was attended by the recently resigned Executive Director Robert Jones and his friends and family. Exec. Dir. Jones confirmed during the meeting that he quit and was not sure he wanted to come back and had to think about it. The agenda and minutes of that meeting have not been added to the FL Crown website.


Florida Crown is at a critical mass. The state has lost faith in its administrative leadership. The recent mutiny by the Executive Director and his staff speaks for itself.

The total lack of faith by local governments and entities to have FL Crown provide business services and training is well established.

The frontline staff that services CareerSource clients, those that need a hand-up, is in a state of flux on a dangerous sea without a keel.

Could Alachua have come in and provided Florida Crown some stability by facilitating its fiscal oversight?

Florida's Governor has the authority to decide that.


Update: April 13, 2024, 10:31 pm. Fixed grammer in caption of last photo.

Comments: to add a comment go here.

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

Meeting Calendar
No need to be confused - Find links to agendas and where your participation is welcome.

Make a comment • click here •
All comments are displayed at the end of the article and are moderated.