Integrity Florida, Policyholders of Florida Call for Gubernatorial Intervention in Citizens Property Insurance Office of Corporate Integrity Dismantling
Oct 22, 2012
During a brief press conference held today, October 22, 2012, two watchdog groups jointly called for Florida Governor Rick Scott to “rein in” Citizens Property Insurance Corporation (“Citizens”) in the wake of the state-run insurer dismantling its Office of Corporate Integrity (“OCI”).
Representatives from “Integrity Florida” and “Policyholders of Florida” requested government scrutiny of Citizens’ recent termination of all four OCI employees. The employees were responsible for handling complaints about internal corruption, sexual harassment and misuse of funds relating to Citizens.
The two organizations delivered a jointly-signed letter to Governor’s Scott’s office today, calling Citizens’ actions “incomprehensible.” The letter asks that Florida’s Chief Inspector General review the OCI’s disbandment and calls the use of confidentiality agreements for the fired employees “troubling.” The Inspector General is already examining Citizens travel expenditures.
To view the letter to Governor Scott, click here.
Integrity Florida is a non-profit, non-partisan research institute whose stated mission is to serve as a watchdog by promoting integrity in government and exposing public corruption.
“Policyholders of Florida,” founded by insurance plaintiffs’ attorney Chip Merlin, is a for-profit corporation based in Tampa. Former Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate Sean Shaw is among the attorneys at Merlin Law Firm, which focuses on commercial and residential property insurance claim disputes.
“Floridians deserve a closer look at Citizens’ accountability, ethics, transparency and compliance,” the October 22, 2012 letter states. “We rely on internal watchdogs, inspectors, investigators, auditors, and a transparent process to prevent corrupt use of public money and to safeguard the integrity of the public sector.”
Sean Shaw, the official founder of Policyholders of Florida, said Citizens’ recent move makes government in Florida less responsive and less accountable, potentially increasing the state’s corruption risk.
The OCI was dismantled amid rising allegations of waste, fraud and abuse, it was noted.
“We are concerned about the timing of these firings coinciding with a spike internal corruption and fraud complaints,” it was said.
Of further concern to the two groups was the lack of any questions being asked about the firings by members of Citizens Board of Governors (“Board”) during the October 19, 2012 meeting.
“Where is the accountability?” Mr. Shaw asked.
One watchdog wondered if Citizens’ ethics and fraud investigators were terminated “because they were doing their jobs too well.”
Florida Senator Mike Fasano called the OCI’s dismantling “disturbing,” adding that Citizens’ actions should be of concern to every Legislator and Cabinet member because “perception is everything.”
He characterized Citizens’ actions as “sneaky” and called for the immediate restoration of the OCI, saying that the Legislature and Cabinet should step in to get a better handle on Citizens’ actions.
“The leaders in Tallahassee need to say we are not going to tolerate this anymore,” Senator Fasano said, adding that he also will send a letter to Governor Scott outlining his concerns about Citizens’ recent actions.
“Citizens for some reason thinks they have this exclusivity of being able to take these types of actions without input from a Legislative body or the elected officials that created this body, and they do it in between sessions because they can get away with it,” Senator Fasano said.
When asked what Citizens-related bills he would file during the 2013 Florida Legislative Session, Senator Fasano said he was not yet sure.
It was also pointed out that Citizens President and CEO Barry Gilway and Citizens’ Chief of Internal Audit Joe Martin worked together in the past and were hired by Citizens within two days of each other.
“The most senior internal watchdog is going to be a former colleague of the President? How is that increasing independence and objectivity,” it was asked during the press conference. Concern exists because Mr. Martin will report directly to Mr. Gilway.
“We have concern about objectivity and a conflict of interest,” said Dan Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida. “The relationship between Gilway and Martin certainly appears to involve a conflict of interest.”
Mr. Krassner said he believes the Legislature also needs to gain a better understanding of the proposed Surplus Notes Depopulation program.
The conference was subsequently adjourned.
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