A Hialeah mental health center, the lead foster care provider in Tampa and agencies that provide child welfare services in Sarasota and mental health services in Pensacola are among the nine nonprofit organizations spending millions compensating executives above the limits allowed by state law, a preliminary report from the governor’s Office of Inspector General has found.
The nine agencies are all under contract with the Department of Children and Families and all receive state and federal funding for at least half of their annual budgets.
According to a report released late Monday by the OIG, the total excessive compensation adds up to more than $3 million annually, but the amounts range from a high of $1 million in excessive compensation at Pensacola-based Lakeview Center to $8,724 in excessive payments at ChildNet, a community-based care center in Fort Lauderdale.
A spreadsheet of the salaries provided to the Herald/Times by the governor’s office shows that the individuals receiving the largest compensation are chief executives of the privately run community centers, which provide child welfare and other services to the neediest people in their communities.
State law requires that a community-based care lead agency may not pay its employees “in excess of 150 percent of the annual salary paid to the secretary of the Department of Children and Families from state-appropriated funds, including state-appropriated federal funds” in base pay or base pay combined with any bonus or incentive payments.
The report does not spell out what that base rate is and it did not name the executives, but the spreadsheet indicates the amounts of compensation by title. Their names are available on publicly available tax data, and through the nonprofit explorer database created by the nonprofit news watchdog ProPublica.
The individuals include:
▪ L. David Dennis, CEO of Eckerd Youth Alternatives in Clearwater. The state reports he made $868,265 in annual compensation, which is $654, 445 in excessive payments. The agency paid out a total of $766,316 in excess payments to five other executives, investigators said.
▪ Mario Jardon, president and CEO of Hialeah-based Citrus Health Network. He made $574,660, which the state says includes $360,840 in excess compensation. The state also paid excessive compensation to two other executives at the community-based mental health center, for a combined total of $403,393 in excessive compensation.
▪ Michael Watkins, CEO of Big Bend Community Based Care in Tallahassee. He made $577,573, which the state says is $363,753 more than is allowed by law. Two other officers also received excessive payments of less than $40,000 each for a combined total of $429,552 a year.
▪ M. Allison Hill, CEO of Pensacola-based Lakeview Center, made $482,550, which is $268,739 above what is allowed. Another seven officers also are receiving excessive compensation at the mental health agency, for a total of $1.029 million, investigators said.
▪ Glen Casel, CEO of Embrace Families Community Based Care in Orlando, made $410,774, which is $196,954 more than allowed. The chief operating officer also made excessive compensation for an agency total of $256,573.
▪ Larry Rein, CEO of ChildNet in Fort Lauderdale, made $222,544, above the allowed compensation by $8,724.
The investigation is the result of an executive order by Gov. Ron DeSantis issued in February after Miami Herald reports and a House of Representatives investigation found that the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence paid its chief executive officer, Tiffany Carr, more than $7.5 million over three years.
DeSantis ordered state agencies to review the annual compensation of all not-for-profit agencies that receive at least half of their budgets from state and federal funds. State agencies were also required to review any single-source contracts that are given protected status in state statute, as FCADV was.
The extensive review, conducted over 10 months by Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel, offered a window into the lucrative nature of the state’s 20-year-long push to privatize state services. It found that $3.9 billion in state dollars and $3.4 billion in federal dollars flowed into 839 agencies that have sole-source, public-private agreements with a state agency.
Of these agencies, 165 were named in a state statute, which gave them added budgetary protection, and 675 receive 50% or more of their budget from the state or from a combination of state and federal funds.
The inspector general’s report also found another three agencies that contract with the Department of Education’s Office of Early Learning but the agencies returned the excessive compensation. They included the Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County, the Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade/Monroe County and the Children’s Forum.
The report also found state oversight by DCF and other state agencies woefully inadequate. Although state law required 194 of the agencies to submit an annual audit to the state, 154 of them did not. Only 39 had been audited and one had an audit pending. The agency with the most outstanding audits was the Department of Education with 26 audits missing.
The report is just preliminary. Investigators said there are 41 entities with outstanding information regarding their executive compensation. All of them are contracted with the Department of Health, and they receive a total of $64.7 million in state funding each year.
In a letter to DeSantis Monday, Miguel said her agency is continuing its investigation into the nine agencies that contract with DCF and will have a final report delivered to him by June 30.
The House Public Integrity & Elections Committee on Wednesday will discuss the status of the investigation and pending legal action against the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @MaryEllenKlas