Children's Board CEO quits amid pressure; Former Tampa Mayor Iorio to take her spot

07/24/12 Janelle Irwin
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The head of the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County is resigning from her six-figure position. Embattled CEO Luanne Panacek is throwing in the towel after results of a damning report were released earlier this month. Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner is on the board of directors. He wanted to oust Panacek in part because of controversy surrounding the board’s use of no-bid contracts.

“It started to becoming revealed to us that there were more than anticipated no-bid contracts that had gone out that we needed to make sure that the processes that were in place to award services – we had to make sure that was fair and that there were the appropriate checks and balances that were in place and that was a larger concern of mine.”

Former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio has agreed to take the CEO spot for six months. Dan Casseday, spokesperson for the Children’s Board, said Iorio will start whittling away at a list of complaints released by the Seffner-based company Invictus.

“She also will be looking at restoring the confidence and integrity of the Children’s Board and in effect becoming the face of the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County.”

Casseday said the study revealed that many employees felt that leadership lacked integrity and ethics. According to the report, more than 90% of employees said they were frustrated with their job and 83% of managers reported that executive leadership did not hold employees accountable for poor performance or inappropriate behavior.

“As a result, the board decided that this report warranted some changes at the Children’s Board and it became a situation where CEO Luanne Panacek decided it would be in the best interest of the Children’s Board to resign.”

Panacek annual salary is $171,000 and she will get roughly that amount as a severance package. According to a press release, her last official day will be October 1 of this year. But Casseday said starting on August 1, Panacek’s work with the board will be limited.

“Dr. Panacek will mainly be available as a consultant to help us with our RFP process which is the process of how we are refunding our social service programs and that will be the main thing that she is consulting on.”

The Children’s Board is funded by a half mil ad-valorem tax. That means homeowners contribute 50 cents per every $1,000 of assessed value on their homes to the board. Voters could decide to kill the funding in 2016 when it will be on a ballot.

“So, it is in the best interest of the Children’s Board to become known to the public and explain what we’re doing with a few dollars a month of the taxpayers money to provide millions of dollars to help not just what you would think of as charity organizations, but many middle-class families in Hillsborough County as well. So, it would be good to have more exposure in general for the Children’s Board.”

The Children’s Board spends about $30 million a year on services and items that benefit children in Hillsborough County. Spokesperson Dan Casseday said he wants more people to know what benefits they provide so when it comes time to vote, they know what they’re voting for.

“We use the money to provide healthy births, improving school readiness for children and school progress – especially now for making sure that children are able to read at grade level by grade three.”

Part of the reason they’re choosing Pam Iorio is that she is well known in Hillsborough not just as former Tampa Mayor, but also through her work with the University of Tampa and a book she authored about being a good leader. Board member Kevin Beckner said the group hasn’t discussed her role together yet, but…

“My personal feeling is she has been a very strong leader, has a lot of respect in our community, I’ve had a great working relationship when she was mayor and I have a lot of faith and confidence that Pam will be able to do a good job in the interim and again, one of the biggest priorities is to provide stability.”

The leadership swap isn’t a done deal yet because board members still have to vote on the proposals on August 1. If the measure passes Iorio will start on August 2. Her salary hasn’t been negotiated yet. Iorio will serve as interim CEO for six months while the board conducts a national search for a permanent replacement. Panacek was not available for comment. Mayor Pam Iorio issued this response:

"I believe in helping our community when the need arises and the situation at the Children’s Board presents such a need. If the Board concurs with the Chairman’s recommendation, I will agree to serve in an interim capacity as the Children’s Board CEO. As I expressed to the Chairman, I will do so with the understanding that I can continue my leadership speaking and my affiliation with the University of Tampa and that the term of this interim contract will be a limited one. Working with the Board and staff I am confident we can set this agency back on a positive course.

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