TALLAHASSEE — Saying the citizens of Florida need assurances that their money is being spent correctly, Gov. Rick Scott wants Citizens Property Insurance to have its own inspector general.
Creating the job will require a change in state law, and Scott says he will make it a priority for the upcoming legislative session. The governor noted that his own chief inspector general is investigating Citizens.
"What I'm worried about is misbehavior, mismanagement," Scott said. "They dismissed their Office of Corporate Integrity. I've asked for two IG investigations. Because this was set up for the benefit of the citizens, taxpayers of the state are taking the risk with this property insurance company and I'm worried about it."
Citizens officials said they were open to the governor's ideas but hadn't been briefed on any proposals.
"Although we cannot comment on legislative proposals we have not seen, we certainly welcome any discussion of ideas for strengthening our current oversight procedures," said Christine Ashburn, Citizens' director of legislative and external affairs.
Lawmakers and watchdog groups applauded Scott's announcement, saying they think the independent auditing and investigative services that an inspector general would provide would benefit Citizens and policyholders.
"I think anything that he would suggest along those lines to kind of get that place under control would be very well received by me," said Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who chairs the Senate's Ethics and Elections Committee.
Many state agencies already have inspectors general, such as the Department of Children and Families, the Department of State and the Attorney General's Office. The governor also has an inspector general, who is busy right now investigating Citizens.
In September, Scott asked his inspector general to look into Citizens finances amid reports of lavish spending by executives. Then, last month he called for an investigation into the dismissal of four internal investigators who discovered misconduct at the agency.
Integrity Florida executive director Dan Krassner said he would like to see the results of those investigations first.
"While the (Citizens) inspector general idea is a good one that should be considered by policymakers, let's also take a look at the inspector general's report in its entirety before deciding on exactly what problems need to be fixed and what solutions would be best," Krassner said.
Sen. David Simmons, chairman of the Banking and Insurance Committee, said the issues at Citizens are bigger than the allegations of misconduct and mismanagement.
"The real solution for Citizens is to depopulate and act as a insurer of last resort like it was intended," Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said. "Once it's massively reduced in size to the function that it was originally intended in an appropriately competitive insurance market, I don't think we'll need an inspector general for such a small entity."
Tia Mitchell can be reached at email@example.com or (850) 224-7263.