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Paying nonprofit CEO Tiffany Carr $7.5 million was no mistake

There were plenty of opportunities for someone to step in. Why didn’t they?
Florida lawmakers are investigating why the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s board of director paid its former CEO, Tiffany Carr, more than $7.5 million over three years. [Tampa Bay Times]

There’s no denying that Tiffany Carr has chutzpah. The former CEO of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence managed to juice her paid time off to the tune of more than $4 million, and convinced her cronies to go along. That’s no easy feat.

The sad episode wasn’t a mistake or a misunderstanding. It wasn’t a bad decision made in a moment of desperation. It wasn’t a temporary lapse in judgment. It wasn’t the white-collar equivalent of a smash-and-grab robbery.

No, this took planning — an ongoing and conscious effort to game the system. It was a clear breach of the public trust that involved multiple people in high-level positions. Some were knee deep in the muck. Others looked the other way, or didn’t do enough to speak up.

Funneling the money to Carr involved immoral and unscrupulous behavior that a fourth-grader knows is wrong.

Carr, 51, wasn’t the head of a Fortune 500 company with billions of dollars in profits. She ran a non-profit that was supposed to spend taxpayer money to help victims of domestic violence.

Carr was a rising and well-connected star in political circles in the early 2000s. In 2003, the state chose her organization as the single clearinghouse for about $52 million in annual state and federal funds.

In 2012, Gov. Rick Scott balked at Carr’s $300,000 salary. But that pales against what’s happened more recently. In the last three years, the nonprofit paid her $7.5 million, according to reporting by the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau, including about $4.9 million for paid time off and other compensation beyond her annual salary. A couple other executives also received ridiculously inflated six-figure payments for paid time off they didn’t use.

Related: Tiffany Carr's many homes.

A compensation committee, made up of Carr’s hand-picked board members, sanctioned the lucrative deal. The members also allowed Carr to claim she had a brain tumor, despite providing no medical evidence.

Tiffany Carr purchased this 6,665-square-foot home in the Blue Ridge Mountains in August 2018 for $1.9 million, the same year she reported $4.5 million in wages that included cashing in millions in paid time off. [MARY ELLEN KLAS | Times/Herald]

The scheme, which one board member testified included altering records, allowed Carr to work nearly exclusively from her home in North Carolina, until she resigned in November.

The Tampa Bay area has witnessed similar scandals recently — respected leaders of small quasi-governmental agencies consolidate power and take advantage of lax oversight. Some enrich themselves. Others turn their agencies into personal fiefdoms. Rodney Fischer and Edward Peachy spring to mind.

Fischer was the former long-serving executive director at the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board who ran an agency that mismanaged its finances and disregarded its own rules, a Tampa Bay Times investigation revealed.

Peachy was in charge of two local career placement agencies before another Times investigation revealed a slew of problems, including how the agencies paid out $3.1 million in bonuses and took credit for finding jobs for thousands of people who never sought help.

Like Carr, Fischer and Peachey were considered experts in their fields. They also had boards that enabled their behavior or were too detached to know what was going on.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state leaders appear serious about figuring out what happened at the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence and possibly clawing back some of the money. Criminal charges are also a possibility.

It’s disappointing that it got this far, given early signs that Carr’s salary and compensation were out of whack. So far, it doesn’t appear any of the nonprofit’s executives or board members were willing to blow the whistle in recent years on this obvious malfeasance. Why didn’t one of them make someone in authority take a hard look at what was going on?

All it would have taken was one of them to say, “Not on my watch.”

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