Governor, House Escalate Inquiry Into Domestic Violence Agency

Governor, House Escalate Inquiry Into Domestic Violence Agency

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida House on Thursday intensified an inquiry into Florida’s domestic violence agency, calling for additional investigations and issuing subpoenas over the former head of the taxpayer-backed organization’s compensation.

The governor asked state Inspector General Melinda Miguel to investigate the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s “exorbitant compensation payouts” and “abuse of state dollars” to determine if any criminal wrongdoing has occurred at the organization.

“Governor DeSantis will not tolerate wasteful or fraudulent spending, particularly from an organization that purports to serve the vulnerable victims of domestic violence,” Helen Aguirre Ferre, a spokeswoman for DeSantis, said in a statement.

Five hours later, the House voted to subpoena 14 individuals who have worked at the organization to further dig into how Tiffany Carr, the agency’s former CEO, was able to receive millions of dollars in compensation for her work at the coalition. Carr is among those who were subpoenaed by the House.

“This appears to be more than a breach of the public trust, this may in fact be criminal,” House Public Integrity & Ethics Chair Tom Leek said during a committee meeting Thursday.

The committee’s staff director Don Rubottom said that, after reviewing documents the organization turned over Wednesday night, it “appeared” Carr received $4.2 million in paid time off between July 2013 through her resignation in October 2019.

The committee had already launched an investigation into the organization.

Rubottom said Carr received approximately $2.6 million in “other compensation” between June 30, 2016 and October 2019.

“A large, large part of the CEO’s salary was provided through various payment for paid time off,” Rubottom said. “It is difficult to understand.”

Details of Carr’s compensation were outlined in a cache of more than 104,000 files the governor’s office and the House received as part of an investigation, Rubottom said. As of late Thursday afternoon, the records had not been released to the public. 

Rubottom told reporters that many of the documents were redacted, which “discouraged” members of the House.

Leek said the compensation outlined in the documents is significantly higher than the roughly $750,000 annual salary the organization had initially reported to the committee.

“When I was first advised of the amounts that we were talking about, it was hard to put together words about what it means. It’s beyond what any of us thought was out there,” Leek, R-Ormond Beach, told reporters after the committee meeting.

The coalition, which received $46.7 million this fiscal year in state and federal funding, oversees domestic violence programs in the state as part of a contract with the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Rubottom said the federal agency that provides funding to the coalition has inquired about Carr’s compensation, adding that he does not believe federal “engagement” will stop in the near future. Leek said he will encourage the state to remain in contact with the federal agency.

The House investigation was launched last year, after the Miami Herald reported discrepancies with Carr’s compensation. Carr stepped down from her leadership post following the report, and the Florida Department of Children and Families started a review of the coalition’s finances.

But Leek said Thursday the coalition has stonewalled requests for documents.

“The coalition’s lack of transparency … has only enhanced any concerns regarding the coalition’s administration of public funds and has given rise to a more general concern about the integrity and efficacy of the state’s statutory and contractual arrangement with the coalition,” Leek said in a two-page investigative report to House Speaker José Oliva, released to the media Thursday afternoon.

The Department of Children and Families told the coalition’s staff and providers that “they should continue to report to work in service of the victims of domestic violence,” according to the statement issued by the governor’s office.

On Thursday, Leek also called on the full board of directors to resign. 

But Mark Herron, the coalition’s attorney, told the committee that, as of Wednesday afternoon, none of the directors had any plans to step down.

The recent developments, however, left the coalition without the help of its powerful lobbying firm, Ballard Partners.

Brian Ballard, the head of the lobbying powerhouse, said in a telephone interview the firm dropped the coalition as a client Thursday morning after learning Wednesday night about the “excessive compensation paid to some executives” at the organization.

“We cannot represent and defend the indefensible,” Ballard told The News Service of Florida Thursday. “If in fact these are the true numbers, it’s not defensible and it’s egregious and it’s wrong.”

Ballard’s firm had represented the coalition for the past nine years.

As the investigation moves forward, both chambers are fast-tracking bills that do away with a law that requires the Department of Children and Families to contract with the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

The Senate Health and Human Services unanimously approved the Senate proposal  (SB 1482) on Thursday. The bill would take effect immediately, upon becoming law.

Senate President Bill Galvano said in a statement he supports the legislation and vowed that his chamber will “work expeditiously toward a solution that ensures there is no interruption of services to victims of domestic violence.”

An identical bill (HB 1087) is also being accelerated in the House.

Oliva told reporters the state needs to do better at keeping tabs on how organizations that receive state funding spend taxpayer money. Oliva said there was “not sufficient statutory oversight” in the legislation that created the partnership between the state agency and the coalition.

“And I think that that’s something that now we will make sure to look at anything we’re creating any such agency,” he said.

— News Service of Florida Senior Writer Dara Kam contributed to this report.

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8 Responses to "Governor, House Escalate Inquiry Into Domestic Violence Agency"

  1. Avatar
    TONY   February 14, 2020 at 10:38 am

    $750,000 Annual Salary? PLEASE tell me that the $750,000 was spread out between 15 to 20 People and NOT going to just ONE Person.

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    Ted   February 14, 2020 at 10:42 am

    Next they need to look at how much the Big Bend Community Based Care CEO earns. When he ran for the House his opponent said it was well over $500,000 per year. Is that true? That seems like quite a bit of state funds that could go directly to the foster children.

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    Snidely Whiplash   February 14, 2020 at 11:17 am

    Yawn…this is a lot of flexing and posturing by the Governor and Nannies in the House in the initial roll out of this revelation of malfeasance from what is most likely a political favor appointment of Tiffany Carr.
    Usually this is all the public will get prior to quietly sweeping the entire issue under the rug.
    There would have been prosecution and jail time if Tiffany had been what the Governor and House see as an underling typical worker.
    But be prepared to have short term memory on Tiffany because the cover up forget about it phase is what is comming next.
    That is the way state government operates if it was an underling Tiffany would already have been booked into jail.
    Tell me I’m wrong.

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    Vernon   February 14, 2020 at 6:23 pm

    If she got paid $4.2 million over 6 years for paid time off…thats $700k a year JUST for paid vacations…so lets assume she had 6 weeks paid vacation a year including paid holidays… thats over $116k per week. Someone please tell us taxpayers were not paying her $6 million per year!

    If this is true…its probably too late to revoke her passport.

    Reply
  5. Avatar
    lesedie   February 14, 2020 at 6:38 pm

    Brian Ballard will run over Mark Herron straight away. She needs to go to jail with her co-conspirators. I would have put FDLE on this, not Melinda Miguel who is a political hack and has been on the public nipple too long herself.

    Reply
  6. Avatar
    Buzz   February 14, 2020 at 10:20 pm

    You can find a copy of their most recent tax return on GuideStar.org… if you can stomach it.

    Reply
  7. Avatar
    Concerned Citizen   February 15, 2020 at 11:54 am

    Brian Ballard has a contract with Big Bend Community Based who’s CEO makes almost 600k a year. The CFO and COO make in excess of 200k each. See their tax return for proof. Is he going to end that contract as well? Or will he keep that contract since the funds are being paid through a shell company to shield The CEOs salary.

    Reply

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