How insulting is it to Floridians who have made the brave and lonely journey from domestic abuse to safety that a woman entrusted with funding for their benefit siphoned it off instead to underwrite a cushy retirement lifestyle in the North Carolina mountains?
And this retirement reportedly began back when she was still ensconced in her job as executive director for the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence — requiring staff members, according to the Tampa Bay Times, “to travel at state expense to meet with her.”
Tiffany Carr stepped down in November 2019 when her political connections proved insufficient to buffer her from questions about a rock star pay package, which had quietly zoomed from $44,000 in 1999 — when Gov. Jeb Bush installed her in the post — to more than $4.5 million in 2018.
Even so, enabled by a small circle of friends on the coalition’s board, she pulled off the slick trick of grabbing a two-year severance parting gift, after bringing her take for the final three years into the neighborhood of $7.5 million.
Over four years, Carr collected some $5 million in paid vacation, a bonanza also lavished on her executive team to an eye-popping extent.
Not bad for a woman who made her mark early as a passionate advocate for victims of domestic violence. Those efforts won the sympathies of Bush’s wife, and the governor made Carr’s nonprofit coalition the exclusive arbiter of domestic violence funding in the state — with amicable oversight by a board largely composed of folks running shelters that received the money.
Since the coalition finally handed over its financial documents to the state on Feb. 13, legislators have been grilling those in a position to know how this could have happened. Gov. Ron DeSantis has asked the state’s inspector general to wade into the swamp, and last week he signed a bill that stripped the coalition of its position as the sole distributor of state and federal funds to Florida’s domestic abuse shelters.
One of the four board members who signed off on the outrageous compensation schemes has been identified as Laura Lynch of HOPE Family Services in Bradenton, which does admirable work for family violence victims in Manatee County. The organization’s website has posted a note from its board chair saying that it is “cooperating fully with the State of Florida’s investigation.”
Yet to be heard from is Carr herself. Times reporters visited one of her four homes, at a gated community in the Blue Ridge Mountains, but no one came to the door.
Questions about the coalition have been circulating at least since 2012 in Tallahassee. But it was not until 2018, when the Miami Herald and the Times started turning over rocks, that the facts began proving difficult to dismiss.
“Legislators, many of whom knew Carr as the Bush acolyte who served on former Gov. Charlie Crist’s transition team, looked the other way,” Times reporter Mary Ellen Klas noted. “They asked no questions and made no changes.”
The long endurance of such an ugly open secret says a lot about Carr’s powerful friendships. But it says even more about the priority those leaders placed on the thousands of Floridians — overwhelmingly women and children — in urgent need of escape from homes where they live in danger and fear.
The Herald-Tribune Editorial Board