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Peaceful Paths Executive Director named in House investigation of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

Theresa Beachy, Executive Director of Peaceful Paths, the certified domestic violence center that serves Alachua, Bradford, and Union counties, was on a subpoena list approved today by the Florida House of Representatives Public Integrity & Ethics Committee (“the Committee”).

Rep. Tom Leek, the Chair of the Committee, began this morning’s meeting with a description of a “very bad” 24 hours for the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence (“the Coalition”), the statutory sole-source state contractor for domestic violence programming. According to the report provided to the Committee, the Coalition receives millions of dollars in public funding each year and is responsible for distributing the funding to 42 domestic violence centers throughout the State. 97% of the Coalition’s funds come from public sources.

In August 2018, the Department of Children & Families (DCF) expressed concerns regarding the executive compensation and accounting at the Coalition. According to Leek, the Coalition has refused for 20 months to provide records that were requested by the State. The Coalition promised cooperation in a January 29, 2020 letter and again at the February 6 meeting of the committee, and representatives of the Coalition met with representatives of the Governor’s office yesterday and provided 104,000 documents. However, the representatives that met with the State yesterday resigned last night. In addition, their lawyers and lobbyists have resigned. However, the members of the Coalition’s Board of Directors have refused to resign and have indicated through their new lawyer that they will not resign. 

Regarding the Board, the report provided to the Committee says, “In addition, concerns have arisen concerning the composition of the Coalition’s Board and its Committees. Media reports indicate that the board is comprised of current and former directors of domestic violence organizations, to which the Coalition provides (or has provided) funding. This appears to involve frequent and recurring conflicts of interest.”

Committee Staff Director Don Rubottom said that he had gained access to the 104,000 documents around 8:30 last night, so he had only skimmed the documents. However, he found that over $7 million was paid in compensation to former Executive Director Tiffany Carr over the past 3 years, including 210 days of paid time off each year, starting July 1, 2018. Rubottom stated that the extraordinary amount of paid time off was simply a way to pay Carr extra money—as far as he could tell, she didn’t actually accrue the time off but was essentially paid twice for those days. Specifically, Rubottom expected that during the fiscal year ending in June 2019, the CEO was paid in excess of $3 million. She has resigned as Executive Director but remains on the Board, according to the report.

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The motion passed by the Committee today called for the resignation of the Coalition’s Board of Directors, called for the House to pass HB1087, which removes the Coalition from its special status for domestic violence funding with an immediate effective date. They also called for the House to issue subpoenas to all recent members of the Board because information provided by the Coalition was redacted.

Governor DeSantis’s office has also issued letters requesting that the House enact HB1087 as soon as possible, that the bill be expanded to make sure DCF can step in to provide the services that the Coalition was contracted to provide, and that the Chief Inspector General investigate the Coalition and make criminal referrals if warranted. The bill is expected to come to the floor of the House for a vote next Wednesday. 

Committee members were particularly concerned that domestic violence services would not be interrupted, and at least one member suggested investigations into the local domestic violence organizations that are affiliated with the Coalition.

Theresa Beachy of Gainesville is on the list of Board members to be subpoenaed. According to the report, she was Chairperson of the Finance Committee in 2016-17 and both a member of the Finance Committee and Recording Secretary of the Executive Committee in 2017-18. Rubottom stated during today’s meeting that it was unclear whether Board members are compensated and how much they knew about the Executive Director’s contract. 

Photo credit: Todd van Hoosear

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