State Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, wants new board members at Citizens Property Insurance Corp. following the release of a report highlighting the travel expenses at the state-backed insurer.
“Citizens is continually looking for ways to increase premiums, reduce coverage and push its customers out," Fasano said on Thursday. "At the same time board members and executives are traveling literally around the world, staying at the finest hotels and dining on first-class food, all at its customers’ expense,”
Fasano, a fevered critic of the state's so-called insurer of last resort, issued his statements in a release calling for the "immediate resignation and replacement of Citizens board members."
The representative’s plea comes on the heels of Gov. Rick Scott saying the company needs to follow state travel rules and cut out international trips.
A 25-page report by Scott’s Chief Inspector Melinda Miguel found that between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, Citizens Property compiled more than $1.3 million in travel-related expenses, of which $454,111 was related to auto travel, $163,625 to airfare and $441,746 for hotel accommodations. Another $138,320 was for meals and $107,751 was billed under room fees.
“We noted 53 instances where senior managers or directors incurred costs in their town of residence (nontravel related) totaling $3,854.71 for the period” for lunch meetings, working lunch, staff meetings and breakfast, the report stated. “The meals were purchased for Citizens’ employees, senior managers, board members, or others doing business with Citizens.”
The audit, which was requested following media reports that questioned the travel expenses at Citizens, highlighted spending by some board members, including a $918.34 dinner tab by seven or eight senior managers and board members while in Orlando in June. The bill included the cost of alcohol and travel expenses by a board member -- who had his car in the city -- charging $58 for round-trip taxi service.
The report did not name the managers or board members.
“These executives spent almost as much on one meal as some state employees are allowed per day in per diem,” Fasano stated.
“There is obviously a culture at Citizens that it is OK to spend its customers’ dollars in such a blatantly wasteful fashion. The only way to change that culture is to clean house. That cleaning must begin at the top. The Citizens board sets policy and creates a climate which directs this company. It is time for a new climate and a new direction."
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater backed the report, calling the spending “inexcusable.”
Citizens President Barry Gilway, hired last June, has agreed that travel standards need to be tightened.
“We have reviewed the report’s findings and recommendations and agree that, as guardians of public funds, we must hold ourselves to a more rigorous standard,” Gilway stated in a release Thursday.
Reach Jim Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (772) 215-9889.