A Florida House panel Thursday demanded the immediate resignations of the state’s nonprofit domestic violence contractor’s board and ordered subpoenas be issued to force it to turn over documents related to salaries and other expenses.
The House Public Integrity & Ethics Committee took action as Gov. Ron DeSantis called on lawmakers to amend state law to require “competitive procurement” of domestic violence services and authorized the state’s Department of Children & Families (DCF) to sever contracts with the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence (FCADV).
DeSantis also ordered state Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel “to determine if there are reasonable grounds to refer the matter for criminal investigation.”
Under a 2012 law, the DCF is obligated to contract exclusively with FCADV to manage 42 certified domestic violence centers. The centers provided 646,971 nights of emergency shelter to 14,817 women, children and men in 2019, according to the DCF.
In the current budget, the Legislature appropriated $46.68 million to FCADV, including $19.1 million in state money and $27.56 million in federal funds.
House Bill 1087, filed by Rep. Juan Alfonso Fernandez-Barquin, R-Miami, seeks to remove “the express requirement for DCF to contract with the FCADV” and adopt a competitive procurement process for domestic violence services. HB 1087 awaits adoption on the House floor. Its Senate companion also is headed for the Senate floor.
The FCADV has been under scrutiny for two years after allegations of “exorbitant executive payouts, abuse of state funds and withholding documents.”
House Public Integrity & Ethics Committee Chairman Tom Leek, R-Daytona Beach, said, after months of delay, the FCADV “dumped 104,000 documents on us” late Wednesday afternoon after the resignations of its staff and withdrawal of its attorney.
Leek said lawmakers and state officials reviewed the documents all night, which revealed “more than $7 million was paid to the executive director, including high salary and 210 days of paid time day off” annually for three years.
FCADV Executive Director Tiffany Carr resigned from her $761,000-a-year position in October.
The FCADV board, however, has refused to resign and has hired a new attorney, Mark Herron.
“I’m a little stymied here,” Leek said. “This appears to be more than a breach of the public trust. This, in fact, may be criminal. The only sensible thing this board has done is to lawyer up.
“I call on the them to resign immediately,” he continued. “We are calling for the immediate resignations of the board of directors.”
Herron, noting he was retained at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, said he knew little of the situation and that his firm was hired “for the purpose of interacting with his committee and conducting an internal investigation.”
Asked whether the board would resign immediately, Herron said: “As of yesterday, they will not.”
Leek said the panel’s staff found many documents were altered and incomplete.
“We’re asking to subpoenas because the information provided to us was, in some cases, redacted,” he said.
Committee staff director Don Rubottom said officials were “suspicious” of FCADV’s documents, including how Carr’s contract called for 50 days paid time off in 2010, then 80 days paid time off and then 210 days annually beginning about three years ago.
Rubottom said documents suggest Carr received $4,235,608.17 for paid days off and more than $3 million in salary, admitting, “It’s hard to tell when these (pay) periods begin and end. I cannot say they’re inaccurate because cannot understand them.”
Rep. Thad Atlman, R-Indian Harbour Beach, said some board members have asterisks next to their names, indicating they are not compensated, while others don’t.
“Are they compensated?” he asked.
“I don’t have any idea,” Rubottom replied.
“I certainly don’t trust this board,” said Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Eustis. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re being paid under the table. Based on their behavior, I have a feeling they’re going to drag this out” further, victimizing people “who are already victims.”