TALLAHASSEE — Tiffany Carr, the highly-paid CEO and president of the state’s largest domestic violence nonprofit organization, announced Thursday that she is retiring from her position, citing a long-running “significant health diagnosis.”
Carr’s decision to give up her leadership role at the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence — which she has helmed for nearly two decades — occurs weeks after the Times/Herald reported the coalition has not fulfilled documents requests issued in a state audit going on more than a year.
Former state Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, a friend of Carr’s, is stepping in as interim president and CEO to lead the nonprofit while a search takes place for a permanent replacement. Grimsley will not draw a salary from the coalition while she serves as its temporary leader.
“While I am disappointed to leave, I am also certain that it is the appropriate time for me to step aside and focus on my ongoing health crisis and allow Denise to step in and be singularly focused on the vital task of ending domestic violence in our communities,” said Carr, 51, in a statement.
Grimsley, who unsuccessfully ran for state agriculture commissioner last year, is a vice president for AdventHealth, the nonprofit healthcare system. A former chair of the state House’s powerful Appropriations Committee, Grimsley also chaired both chambers’ healthcare budget committees during part of her 14 years in the Florida Legislature. Both of those committees oversee the parts of the state budget from which FCADV has drawn much of its government funding.
“I am honored and saddened to step into the position of interim president/CEO, but do so knowing that my dear friend, Tiffany, badly deserves to step away at this time and focus on herself and this battle she’s been privately facing,” Grimsley said in a statement.
Carr will remain a consultant for the coalition during the transition and search for her successor, “working on an hourly basis for a limited number of hours per week,” according to a press release. She will also remain a member of the coalition’s foundation board.
In a statement, the coalition’s board chair, Melody Keeth, said Carr had begun discussing her departure six months earlier: “We are also thankful she will continue to assist us during this period, even while she continues to fight an unfathomable health diagnosis.”
The coalition, which contracts with the state Department of Children and Families to oversee domestic violence programs, passes through more than $51 million in state and federal government funds to 42 domestic violence centers across the state. During Carr’s tenure, she oversaw a broad expansion of its responsibilities and its funding — and the coalition’s inclusion in state law as DCF’s primary partner on domestic violence issues.
Carr’s compensation also rose substantially over that period of time, at one point reaching $761,000 annually, according to 2017 Internal Revenue Service documents. The increases in her salary — unusually high among leaders of similar state-funded nonprofits — drew scrutiny as early as 2012 when Carr reported making more than $316,000, though then-Gov. Rick Scott and some concerned lawmakers eventually took no action.
That salary is determined by the coalition’s board members, several of whom have been or currently are executive directors of domestic violence organizations around the state that rely on the coalition to deliver its funding. During the last fiscal year, Carr’s coalition salary and additional compensation dipped to $636,497, according to the coalition’s most recent IRS documents.
IRS documents also show some of Carr’s recent compensation has included a supplemental retirement plan that has received more than $650,000 in the past seven years.
The Florida Department of Children and Families started a review of the coalition’s finances last year after the Miami Herald reported on possible discrepancies between Carr’s federally reported compensation and her salary on file with the state. But DCF said last month that the audit had stalled because the coalition had not complied with requests for documents made by the state in the past 13 months.
DCF said at the time in a statement that it was “not willing to continue working with a provider who will not account for how they are utilizing taxpayer dollars” — that unless the issues were resolved, the state would be unlikely to continue its contract with the coalition.
Sarah Bascom, a spokeswoman for the coalition, said Thursday that the coalition had provided some requested documents to the state, but contended the coalition “is not obligated to provide records to DCF that are unrelated to either its contract with DCF or funding received under the DCF contract — just as any other private entity that contracts with a state agency is not required to provide records relating to its private business operations.”
It was unclear Thursday how Carr’s departure from her role would affect the coalition’s negotiations with DCF. DCF Secretary Chad Poppell told the Herald earlier this month that conversations between the coalition’s lawyers and his agency “are still ongoing” over disputes including the audit requests. DCF did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding Carr’s retirement Thursday.
State lawmakers were also weighing whether to intervene in the coalition’s stalled audit process. State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, who sent a letter to House leaders last month calling for an investigation into the coalition’s salaries and finances, said an investigation should still occur.
“I wish nothing but good health to Ms. Carr, but continue to be concerned of FCADV’s financial decision making and urge the Department of Children and Families — along with the governor and legislative leadership — to investigate this organization,” Eskamani said in a statement. “We are putting survivors of domestic violence at risk if we don’t take action now to address the poor financial decisions of FCADV.”
Carol Wick, a national domestic violence advocate who previously ran a certified domestic violence center in the state, urged Grimsley to open up the coalition’s records to state auditors.
“We have to move forward so that we can clean up the mess and the corruption and start to get back to the business of saving lives,” she said.