Citizens CEO on Dismantled I-Team: ‘The Bad Decision Was How We Did It’
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Only months on the job, the president of Citizens Property Insurance took the blame Tuesday for dismantling an internal investigation team, strongly insinuating past problems within the agency were being magnified in the media.
And while two state agencies are conducting separate reviews of Citizens' past practices, board members appeared ready to move on, with new guidelines in place from Barry Gilway, Citizens president and CEO, as to how future internal investigations will be handled and travel expenses allocated.
Called before the board to explain the negative reports directed at the state-backed property insurance provider, Gilway strongly objected to the media attention thrown at his agency, pointing to often anonymous charges against employees that have later been proven unfounded as well as problems that were dug up from prior administrations, including liberal use of travel expenses, large severance packages and misidentified sexual harassment claims.
He also admitted that he didn’t fully consider the perception of dismantling and firing the four members of the Office of Corporate Integrity team. But in hindsight, with goals to reduce and bring efficiency and transparency to Citizens, he doesn’t regret his actions, just how he approached the move as a new internal investigation team is being assembled -- possibly including some of the former OCI members -- that will no longer be under the president’s directive.
“The reality here is when we have the office of the attorney general completing an investigation into (travel) expense control, we move forward and we get some headlines that we dismantled the Office of Corporate Integrity,” Gilway said.
“Dumb decision? Yes. My decision? Yes,” he continued.
“The bad decision was not to eliminate the Office of Corporate Integrity; the bad decision was how we did it. Dumb.”
Citizens is also being reviewed by the governor’s chief inspector general because of the dismantling of the integrity team and a subsequent Nov. 16 report that claimed the integrity team was investigating how leadership at Citizens handled a number of internal issues, including allegations of sexual harassment, indecent drunken behavior in public, questionable payments and falsified documents.
On Tuesday the board backed Gilway, noting he could have easily thrown a few employees under the bus instead of moving forward to fix the agency that state officials want to downsize from its more than 1.4 million policyholders.
“We will win back the credibility in the eyes of the public,” Carlos Lacasa said as the board workshop opened.
Board member John Rollins, pointing to a slant in the coverage he’s read, said the challenge is moving forward with a “new sheriff in town.”
“I think there are a lot of dedicated people that want to make it better, that want to heal the market,” Rollins said.
Board members had requested Gilway’s appearance because of the dismantling of the integrity team.
Without denying that all the allegations are false and that discipline has been doled out in arbitrary manner in the past, Gilway characterized media reports of a Wild West mindset inside the company as “preposterous” and “absurd.”
The new internal investigation team will report to the state board, with improved directions to act as a watchdog, placed under an internal audit team rather than Gilway.
“There have been terms used like "watchdog" -- they were not watchdogs, there had never been one proactive report done by OCI,” Gilway said.
A new head of human resources will be announced Dec. 14, coming on board three days later, with marching orders for handling employees, Gilway said.
Florida TaxWatch President & CEO Dominic M. Calabro called the state’s approach to restoring confidence in Citizens “encouraging.”
“While recent news reports have primarily focused on allegations of internal missteps at CPIC, we must not lose sight of the urgent need to fix a broken system that relies on taxpayer subsidies,” Calabro stated in a release.
"One of the biggest threats to Florida's taxpayers, homeowners, businesses and our economic growth are the potentially large assessments that will follow when a major storm or series of storms make landfall in our state.”
Reach Jim Turner at email@example.com or at (772) 215-9889.