Due to copyright restrictions, we could only include the highlights from this 5-page expose by the St. Petersburg Times. The internet address for the full article can be found at the bottom of this post…
Inside Tampa Domestic Violence Shelter, There’s Quite a Storm
By Ben Montgomery
June 5, 2010
Threats, accusations and tribulation abound at the state’s largest domestic violence shelter.
TAMPA – Joanne Lighter was hired at the Spring of Tampa Bay to position Florida’s largest domestic violence shelter for the future. Tampa’s beloved charity had churned through executives and interim executives for nearly 10 years. It needed new phones and computers, but also stability and a long-range plan.
Two years later, Lighter has left a trail of broken relationships and hurt feelings through Tampa’s philanthropic community.
Donors have pulled support and fundraisers have been scrapped. The Spring’s mission is “in peril,” as the chairman of the board wrote to donors in April, and the shelter could soon have to turn victims away.
Lighter says she is doing the job the board gave her, and that change is hard.
Lighter’s critics – including former Spring employees, volunteers and board members – say she is verbally abusive, has fired good people and is dragging down an important Tampa institution that provided emergency shelter for more than 2,000 domestic violence victims last year.
One trustee wrote in his resignation letter, “To have an executive director . . . engaging in a pattern of behavior that mimics the very disease we are attempting to eradicate from our community is unconscionable at the very least.”
• • •
Lighter was paid $102,907 in her first year, tax records show. It wasn’t long before she ran into conflict. Former volunteers and staffers say she micromanaged, took credit for successes and blamed others for failures, and told Spring staffers not to talk to board members. That was a departure from years past, when members of the board of trustees, which did fundraising, often volunteered at the shelter.
In late 2008, two directors aired their concerns to the board. Several months later, when nothing had changed, one of them quit.
• • •
“Joanne Lighter continues to create an atmosphere that is on so many levels contrary to the stated mission of the Spring,” wrote Robert Batte, a member of the board of trustees. “I will not be a party to this, and remaining involved with the Spring has the appearance of supporting her and her inappropriate ’storm trooper’ behavior.”
Two women who had run the Spring’s Celebrity Dancing fundraiser quit, saying Lighter had ruined their most recent event, which brought in nearly $75,000 less than in years past.
“Please, someone,” one of them wrote, “take a look at this very serious situation before it is more out in the community than it already is.”
• • •
Last January, the police were called to the Spring. Someone had left death threats on Lighter’s voicemail.
“I am sent here to kill you,” the caller said in the first message.
“It’s time for me to kill you,” she said in the second.
Police interviewed Lighter and her assistant – both seemed shaken up, the officer noted. He obtained the shelter’s phone records to try to learn who was calling.
The calls were coming from inside the building.
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