By Konstantine Fekos
Progress is slow and steady on the reconstitution of the Northwest Pennsylvania Workforce Investment Board, as the six chief local elected officials (CLEOs) responsible for overseeing it continue operations, according to Crawford County Commissioner Jack Lynch, who serves as one of the six CLEO members.
Lynch reported he and the other five CLEO members have been granted an extension from the state Department of Labor and Industry to run the programming and fiscal sides of the WIB until Jan. 30.
“We’re making a clear distinction between the finances and service and delivery programs,” Lynch said. “It takes time to set these things up, gathering resources, populating staff and so forth.”
The CLEOs are expected to report back to Harrisburg at a later date for a status update on the WIB’s reformation after the Department of Labor and Industry’s forensic audit found $227,476 in wasteful spending by the Regional Center for Workforce Excellence (RCWE).
The audit covered July 2009 through July 2013, when the RCWE was the then-fiscal agent of the WIB, responsible for job training in Crawford, Erie, Venango, Warren, Forest and Clarion counties while the Department of Labor and Industry oversees job training on the state level.
The counties’ individual shares of the money owed are proportioned at 53 percent or $120,562.43 for Erie; 18 percent or $40,945.73 for Crawford; 11 percent or $25,022.39 for Venango; 8 percent or $18,198.10 each for Clarion and Warren; and 2 percent or $4,549.53 for Forest.
With managerial responsibilities revoked a week ago, the RCWE is expected repay several million dollars for an office building purchased in Erie in 2009 by the organization’s holding company.
“The current staff, the hands-on people, none of those folks have been implicated (and) are all wondering what’s next,” Lynch said. “There are some very good things these people have done. The state recognizes the value in the programs provided. The issue was money management.”
For the time being, the CLEOs are occupied with picking up the pieces and putting the WIB back together as seamlessly as possible to benefit Pennsylvanians utilizing job services, according to Lynch.
“A functional WIB entity is pretty much in place,” he said. “There may be parts missing in January, but everything the state wants will be there. A lot’s happened in the past 30 to 45 days, but nobody can stop what they’re doing and do this full time.”
The transition is also likely to involve new state policies involving greater scrutiny of WIB spending, but Lynch said the CLEOs won’t let the public down.
“This transition has to work so that wherever people walk through the door for job services, the disruption will be minimal,” he said. “People are counting on these services. That’s not going to fall down.”
A board entity should be in place to take over WIB responsibilities by late January or early February, Lynch said, as the CLEOs find a way through, programmatically and financially.
“(The CLEOs) are a good group of people,” he said. “We all understand the magnitude of this; it’s taken a lot of our time and that’s a refreshing thing in the regional sense. You can make the case that it’s working.”
Konstantine Fekos can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.