Coalition salary scandal shows why we need newspapers | Capital Curmudgeon
Well, you certainly can’t say the Florida Legislature can’t spring into action and act decisively to resolve a bad situation, as soon as it becomes excruciatingly obvious.
体育在线365A couple sessions ago, all it took was 17 people dead and another 17 wounded at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and the Legislature produced a tepid package of gun laws. The National Rifle Association is challenging those changes in court, but the amazing thing was that something – anything – spurred state government to respond at all.
When tourism takes a hit from some unforeseen emergency and the bottom falls out of state tax revenues (looking at you, corona virus), our legislators will hie themselves to Tallahassee for a special session and cut the budget. They usually cut the wrong stuff, as well as some deserving low-hanging fruit, but at least they get motivated.
And so it was that Gov. Ron DeSantis found on his desk last Thursday a new piece of legislation, signatures of the House and Senate barely dry on it, removing the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence from state statute and directing the Department of Children and Families to take over programs for beaten, threatened and abused women and children. (Men, too, but you know who we’re talking about, mostly.)
体育在线365His announcement of the bill signing referred to “untenable practices over the past several years” by the FCADV. That would include $7.5 million paid to its former CEO over three years, and the coalition refusing to turn over documents DCF sought for an audit.
体育在线365The coalition operated as clearinghouse for state and federal funds – about $52 million going to 42 domestic violence shelters and emergency services around the state. On top of the law DeSantis signed, a House committee subpoenaed 14 executives and FCADV board members, demanding the board’s resignations.
体育在线365Tiffany Carr, the coalition’s 20-year CEO who resigned for health reasons last year, averaged $1.36 million annually in compensation over the past five years. Some other FCADV executives drew six-figure salaries.
体育在线365The governor and legislators were shocked, appalled, horrified, outraged, disgusted, incredulous that the state could pay such huge sums to top managers in any enterprise not involving a football. It was like that scene in “Blazing Saddles,” when the bumbling frontier governor played by Mel Brooks shouts, “Gentlemen, we must act! Our phony-baloney jobs are at stake here!”
体育在线365Well, nobody was going to get defeated, this being an off year for statewide elections. But they couldn’t pass up an embarrassment like this.
“Today’s bill signing is not a celebratory occasion, as it is the result of a deliberate abuse of state dollars, an inexcusable lack of transparency and a calculated breach of public trust,” DeSantis said.
He didn’t mention that the 20 years Carr ran the FCADV coincided with the years Republicans have held the governor’s office. But he did tell all agencies to review their single-source contracts.
Rep. Tracie Davis, D-Jacksonville, ranking Democrat on the House committee that’s been holding hearings on FCADV, framed the matter a little less tactfully than the “untenable practices” DeSantis cited.
体育在线365“How many more abused women and children could have gotten help and even escaped from their situations if we had not wasted so much taxpayer money on bloated salaries and benefits?” she asked.
Good question. And another pertinent point is how all of this burst into public opprobrium so recently. It’s another example of why we need newspapers.
体育在线365The Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald bureau did a story in 2012 about Carr’s compensation – then about $300,000 – and then-Gov. Rick Scott harrumphed, but signed a bill extending the FCADV lock on distribution of DCF’s money. The Herald then discovered in 2018 that her salary was higher — $761,000 — and the department asked for an audit – which the coalition refused.
Finally, as this year’s session began, the newspapers persisted and the House got interested – once the numbers got too gaudy to ignore.
Newspapers everywhere have fallen on hard times. Complaining about it is like getting mad at gravity. It’s not going to change. But the FCADV mess is a print story.
A big operation like "60 Minutes" could do that kind of work, but TV just isn’t going to produce the kinds of stories that newspapers in the Capitol generate. There are also some important, reliable online operations like Politico, but it’s always been the state’s major papers that prompt reforms.
Bill Cotterell is a retired Tallahassee Democrat capitol reporter who writes a twice-weekly column. He can be reached at email@example.com
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