Former state Sen. Denise Grimsley has stepped down as the interim president and CEO of the state’s largest domestic violence nonprofit organization after just a two-month tenure.
Through a personal spokeswoman, Grimsley confirmed Tuesday that on Monday, she left her position at the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence. She did not provide a reason for her departure.
The Sebring Republican stepped into the role after the former CEO and president, Grimsley’s close personal friend Tiffany Carr, gave up her leadership role in November after running the coalition for nearly two decades.
Her departure came weeks after the Miami Herald reported that the coalition has not fulfilled document requests issued in a state audit going on more than a year. Carr cited a “significant health diagnosis” at the time. After she left, she continued to be paid as a consultant.
While Carr drew a large salary for her work, Grimsley was not paid by the coalition for her work as its temporary leader.
The coalition, which contracts with the state Department of Children and Families, oversees domestic violence programs, and passes through more than $51 million in state and federal government funds to 42 domestic violence centers across the state.
DCF Secretary Chad Poppell told the Times/Herald on Tuesday that he is “a big fan of Denise’s.”
“I was eager to work through our issues together,” he said.
Grimsley, who unsuccessfully ran for state agriculture commissioner last year, is a vice president for AdventHealth, the nonprofit healthcare system. She once chaired the state House’s powerful Appropriations Committee, and also chaired both the Senate and House’s 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 the coalition has drawn much of its funding.
The coalition is the target of a pair of bills moving through the legislative process that aim to remove the state’s required partnership with FCADV. For decades, the nonprofit has been written into the law as a partner of the Department of Children and Families. The bill would allow different nonprofits — including FCADV — to seek a contract if the state’s Department of Children and Families decides to bid out those services.
Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, who chairs the Senate’s health care budget committee, told the Times/Herald earlier this month that he filed the legislation in part because of past reporting on Carr’s $761,000 salary as well as the coalition’s reluctance to fully provide documents requested in a state audit.
Bean declined to comment on Grimsley’s news. House bill sponsor Rep. Juan Fernandez Barquin, a Miami Republican, said the fact that Grimsley left early is “odd and suspicious” given she seems like the “perfect person” to run the non-profit.
He added that he would support an amendment to his bill that would suspend FCADV for one year, barring them bidding for a DCF contract until an audit is complete.
“The lack of transparency is smoke, and where there’s smoke there’s fire,” he said. “When you do something wrong, you should be punished. The fact that they haven’t been transparent with the state warrants some type of punishment.”
Republican lobbyist and Trump confidant Brian Ballard, of powerful lobbying firm Ballard Partners, is registered to lobby against the bill on behalf of the coalition.
Poppell maintains that DCF supports the bill, a position he “hasn’t moved on” since the bill was filed.
“Fundamentally, the relationship has to change in statute to have a true vendor relationship with the department,” Poppell said. “I do think changes need to be made statutorily.”
Bean’s bill has not yet been put on an agenda for a hearing, but Sen. Lauren Book, chair of the Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee, said she plans to hear the bill “very, very soon.” The committee is the bill’s first assigned stop.
Book, a Broward County Democrat, said Grimsley’s departure “speaks volumes” to the way the nonprofit may be operating and that Bean’s bill would put “guard rails” around the entities with which the government may choose to contract.
“We have to have leadership that we can trust. ... It causes me great concern because she is somebody I have respect for, having served with her,” said Book, who runs a sexual abuse awareness nonprofit called Lauren’s Kids. “The things she has done for survivors of domestic abuse and her work as a nurse ... when someone like that will no longer defend actions going on [at FCADV] ... that speaks volumes.”
Miami Herald contributor Elizabeth Koh contributed to this report.