Thursday, February 22, 2018

Citizens Property Insurance interim president chalks up almost $10,000 in travel expenses in two months

When Thomas Grady left another state job in March to become interim president of Citizens Property Insurance, he sent his staff a goodbye letter that urged:

"Think different. Be heard. But most of all, suck the marrow out of life, inside and outside the office.''

Grady, a millionaire Naples securities lawyer and friend of Gov. Rick Scott, seems to have taken his own advice. In less than two months at state-run Citizens, he spent nearly $10,000 on expensive hotel rooms, airplane trips, a limo ride and a three-night stay in Bermuda.

And those business expenses don't include the cost of criss-crossing Florida in May when he met with newspaper editorial boards for a "listening tour'' as he lobbied unsuccessfully to get the Citizens job permanently. Grady was passed over last week in favor of an out-of-state replacement.

On Tuesday, Grady defended his expenses, saying he was trying to immerse himself in his new duties, which required meeting with Citizens' employees and board members and others in the insurance industry. He also said he saved the company "tens of thousands of dollars" by refusing some reimbursements and declining to join other Citizens employees and board members on an April trip to London to meet with insurers.

"I think we were very frugal at expenditures actually," Grady said. "You couldn't do what I did for less money."

Among Grady's expenses:

• $2,928 for round-trip business and first-class airfare to Hamilton, Bermuda, for meetings with insurers.

• Two nights at the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island for $259 a night.

• Four nights with meals at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay for a total tab of $941.

• $319 for a single night at the Tampa Airport Marriott.

• $114 for a limo ride to the Fort Myers airport from his $4.2 million Naples home, on the same street as Scott's mansion.

So far, Citizens has reimbursed Grady $9,334 for expenses he reported between March 12 and May 3. Yet to be submitted are bills for his subsequent media tour.

Grady is also entitled to an extra three weeks' salary as severance, about $18,000, after losing out on the top job to Barry Gilway, a former Maryland insurance executive who started this week.

State Sen. Mike Fasano, a frequent critic of Citizens, called expenses like the $259 Ritz-Carlton room "unconscionable.''

"This is a perfect example of how out of touch he and others in Tallahassee are as far as understanding and appreciating what the little guy and gal are having to deal with economically today,'' said Fasano, R-New Port Richey.

John Wortman, a Citizens board member, said he was not aware of Grady's travel tab. Wortman said he will propose that future expenses of Citizens presidents be made public each month as part of the board's meeting agenda.

"I think we as a board ought to look at the (president's) expense account,'' Wortman said. "If what you're doing doesn't sit well on the front page of the newspaper, you shouldn't do it.''

Citizens is controlled by the state and funded partly by assessments on all insured Floridians, not just its 1.4 million policyholders.

Grady supported measures to make Citizens' policyholders pay more for less coverage. He endorsed Scott's mantra that customers should view Citizens as an unattractive option to truly make it the insurer of last resort.

This isn't the first time Grady's spending has come under the spotlight.

In 2009, during a two-year term in the Florida House, Grady billed the state a total of $7,850 for regular use of a private plane. That was more than any other lawmaker charged for private flights.

Last July, he was tapped by Scott and other Cabinet members to take over as commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation, which oversees banks and securities firms. He was in the position for less than a year before Citizens board chairman Carlos Lacasa approached him about taking the interim Citizens job at $315,000 a year, considerably more than he was making at OFR.

Just a week after his appointment was announced, Grady rented an SUV at Citizens' expense and drove to the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island for a two-night stay totaling $629.78, not including meals covered separately by Citizens. There, he spoke at the Florida Insurance Market Summit, an annual industry conference.

"It was a great opportunity at very little expense to meet literally dozens of insurance and reinsurance executives all in one place," Grady said.

A whirlwind of travel and restaurant bills and meetings ensued.

On March 20, Grady spent the night in a $319 room at the Tampa Airport Marriott before flying first class and business class to Bermuda. In an email to Citizens' accounting department, his assistant attributed the $2,928 cost of the ticket to making the reservation on relatively short notice and "limited seating availability.''

In Bermuda, Grady stayed in a $459 a night room at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess and met with reinsurers who sell added layers of insurance (called reinsurance) to help Citizens cover claims after a major hurricane.

The total cost of the Bermuda trip: $3,899.

"We bought $750 million of reinsurance, so it was a pretty important trip," Grady said.

Within 3 1/2 weeks of returning to Florida, Grady compiled another $1,750 in travel expenses, including a $114 limo ride from his home to the Fort Myers/Naples airport. For $493, he flew to Atlanta and on to Jacksonville, where Citizens' underwriting and claims operations are based.

On April 24, Grady rented a luxury Hyundai Genesis in Naples and drove to Tampa, where Citizens has a call center. He spent four nights at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay, having breakfast with two board members and lunch with a Citizens vice president. Total tab for that trip: $1,089.

A week later, Grady billed Citizens $199 for an evening flight from Fort Lauderdale to Jacksonville. He rented a car, spent the night in a hotel and drove the next morning to Tallahassee, headquarters of Citizens' legislative and legal operations.

Three days later, Grady was back at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay in a $170 room.

Grady had no issues with the cost of any of his hotel stays, except for the $319 room at the Airport Marriott which he said he did not personally book.

"I was outraged,'' he said. ''I didn't stay there (again) in April because I was so unhappy with that rate."

By Grady's reckoning, he was a bargain for Citizens.

"Citizens is a big business with $3 billion in revenue. It's the ninth largest property and casualty insurance company in the country and probably should have a CEO making between $5 million and $8 million if you compared it to the private sector."

In becoming interim president, he said, he would have been eligible for the standard relocation package offered high-level executives: $25,000 to help sell a home; $25,000 to help buy a home and $25,000 to move furniture to a new, primary residence.

Moreover, Grady said, he could have tapped a Citizens' program enabling senior executives to stay in home and apartment rentals in Tallahassee, Jacksonville and Tampa.

"I declined to accept payments that could have been in the tens of thousands of dollars," he said.

With Citizens' operations so spread out, Lacasa, the board chairman, acknowledged he expects the head of Citizens to be on the road at least a couple of times a week. However, he said he never talked to Grady about renting homes in various places instead of staying in hotels.

"I can't imagine anyone pursing a housing solution for Tom until he was permanent," Lacasa said. "If he was going to be permanent."

Susan Taylor Martin can be contacted at [email protected] Jeff Harrington can be reached at [email protected]

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