Florida Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, wants the Florida Cabinet to grill executives from the state-backed insurance provider on alleged lavish travel expenses at a time when the agency is trying to reduce coverage and increase rates.
Barry Gilway, the new president and executive director of Citizens Property Insurance Corp., responded with his own letter to the Cabinet, saying hes all for such a discussion.
I welcome the opportunity to appear before the Cabinet to discuss our travel policy or any other issue of concern that you or any other elected official may have regarding Citizens operations and expenses, Gilway wrote late Friday to Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.
Fasano, among the most ardent legislative watchdogs of Citizens, is calling for the review after reports showed travel vouchers submitted by former interim president, Thomas Grady, for just March and April totaled $9,334.
Gradys costs included $941 for four nights with meals at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay and $114 for a limo ride from the Fort Myers airport to his home in Naples.
Also coming into question have been expenses related to international trips that were undertaken by officials sent to New York, Bermuda, London and Zurich as they negotiated a pair of $750 million bond placements.
The bond placements resulted in $47 million in savings.
Citizens top executives and board members have been shameless in the way they lavishly spend tax dollars on travel and related expenses, Fasano stated in the letter.
While crying poor mouth they stay in posh hotels, eat expensive meals, and engage in international travel. While so many of their customers are struggling to cut their personal budgets so they can pay their ever-increasing premiums, Citizens higher-ups are living high on the hog on the public dime.
Gilway told reporters on Aug. 17 that it appears expense controls now in place are fairly stringent compared to what he encountered in the private sector, but that a review is underway to determine if travel programs need to be revamped or improved upon.
He also defended the international travel costs, which for the most part were one or two executives spending hours in the air, landing, meeting with local financiers and then heading to the next stop.
I think you need to understand when you travel to Bermuda or travel to London, youre not going to find a $125 Marriott, they dont exist, Gilway told reporters Aug. 17. When you do have international travel, there are expenses associated with it.
The next meeting of the Cabinet is Sept. 18.
Gilways letter to Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet:
Today, you received a letter from Sen. Mike Fasano which references a recent article in the Tampa Bay Times and requests that Citizens Property Insurance Corp. appear before the Cabinet to respond to allegations of excessive travel costs, particularly in regard to international travel.
First, please allow me to assure you that Citizens takes its fiscal responsibilities to all our policyholders and the people of Florida very seriously. This extends to corporate travel, which makes up 0.17 percent of the overall operating expenses necessary to insure approximately 1.4 million Floridians.
We are dedicated to operating efficiently and ensuring proper controls in every aspect of our business operations, including travel for executives, management and all employees. Part of that efficiency is achieved by purchasing reinsurance on the international market to ensure that we are able to pay claims quickly and protect Florida policyholders from the risk of assessments in the event of a major catastrophe.
Because most reinsurers are based abroad, international travel is a necessary part of negotiating and purchasing reinsurance. During the April trips highlighted by the Tampa Bay Herald and The Miami Times, Citizens CFO Sharon Binnun negotiated a 2.41 percent savings on catastrophe bonds and a 3.85 percent savings on reinsurance, ultimately saving Citizens an estimated $47 million and reducing potential assessments for all Florida policyholders by $1.5 billion.
As a government entity operating in an international industry, Citizens walks a fine line between fiscal stringency and the need to conduct business internationally on behalf of all Floridians. We also recognize that there always is room for improvement and that we have a duty to achieve efficiencies in everything we do, whether in Tallahassee or London.
I currently am undertaking a complete organizational and expense review to identify where improvements can be made. My initial review has found that we currently have many of the necessary controls and expense management tools in place; however, we are evaluating several proposals to further reduce spending, which will include establishing more stringent standards regarding hotel and restaurant chargers, wherever possible, to benefit our policyholders and the people of Florida. At the direction of Chairman Carlos Lacasa, and in response to Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwaters request, we will present an overview of our travel policy and recommendations for consideration at our board of governors meeting on Sept. 7.
I welcome the opportunity to appear before the Cabinet to discuss our travel policy or any other issue of concern that you or any other elected official may have regarding Citizens operations and expenses. Please do not hesitate to let me know when and how I can be of service.
President/CEO and Executive Director
Reach Jim Turner at email@example.com or at (772) 215-9889.