February 20, 2020; Miami Herald
As bizarre as it may be, Florida lawmakers have finally allowed themselves to acknowledge (and express belated outrage over) the exorbitant executive pay at the state-funded Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence (FCADV). This issue was surfaced in 2012, but just because they have been sitting on their hands for eight years even as the information has been publicized and millions in excessive compensation has walked out the door doesn’t mean they can’t act like they mean real business now.
Legislation has been proposed and unanimously passed in the House to strip FCADV of its role and control over $52 million in state and federal contracts and to authorize the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to take over its role for the remainder of the fiscal year.
There is no question that the compensation afforded the well-connected Tiffany Carr, whose backers included the Bush empire, was excessive, and much of it was in addition to her already generous and rapidly expanding salary.
First was a $50,000 bonus, awarded in 2012 by the board’s compensation committee. The bonus rose to $60,000 in 2014, $100,000 in 2015, and $75,000 in 2016 “for exemplary performance” with an additional $135,000 added to her retirement account.
Then came the arrangement to inflate the amount of paid time off she accumulated to allow her to cash it in. The first checks were modest, then they became massive: $700,000 in 2017, $4.5 million in 2018 and $1.7 million last year.
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So now, Governor Ron DeSantis is demanding a review of all single-source contracts with nonprofits, which enjoy a protected status in state statute. It appears the state has figured out that relationships forged under such exclusive circumstances had gotten a bit too cozy. There are perhaps a dozen of these types of providers in Florida, but they affect many more in that they provide infrastructure supports for various human services fields.
All of this has generated unwelcome ripples in many directions. No battered women’s organization wants its records scrutinized due to privacy and security concerns, and there is no indication of how far the demand for transparency will extend. And in a warning to the potentially civic-minded, current and former members of the FCADV board of directors and executive staff are being deposed and subpoenaed to testify in front of the legislature after the agency reportedly refused to cooperate.
On top of that, DeSantis has requested that the Florida inspector general investigate, and two members of Congress have asked for a federal probe. We do not know how much of what is going on is justified by anything other than the enormously bloated salary, but we do know that Carr’s political connections loom large in the entire drama.
Even some of the programs funded by the coalition are publicly expressing their disgust, with 26 of the state’s 42 center directors demanding the resignation of the FCADV board. The coalition’s attorney, Karen Walker has accused DCF of targeting the coalition unfairly. But the flashpoint of the executive compensation is hard to overcome, what with Carr having been paid almost $5 million just for “paid time off” over the final few years of her reign.
DeSantis says, speaking of the long-term sweetheart deal, that “what you have is something that’s kind of self-perpetuating entity in statute…the head of it selects the board, and on and on it goes. And that’s not the type of accountability and oversight that you need in order to do well.”
True enough, but the rush to express outrage this late in the game still strikes us as motivated by something other than ethics. If the public’s not asleep, it will notice that many in this scenario, both on the state and the nonprofit side, had some responsibility to address the situation after the first reporter filed their story.—Ruth McCambridge