Thursday, January 18, 2018
Business

Citizens leaders blast media reports about firm's problems

TALLAHASSEE — Beleaguered by allegations of corporate misconduct and exorbitant executive spending, leaders at Citizens Property Insurance Corp. expressed outrage — at the media.

During a special hearing on Tuesday to address several corporate improprieties first reported by the Times/Herald, Citizens CEO Barry Gilway reserved some of his harshest criticism for news outlets that uncovered the laundry list of scandals at the state-run company.

"I am committed to making sure the reputations of innocent employees are appropriately protected," said Gilway, claiming that reporters had defamed former Citizens employees accused of wrongdoing.

Gilway used words like "preposterous," "absurd," "pathetic," and "shameful," when discussing media coverage of the company's internal troubles.

He defended his top officials — who have been beset by a laundry list of scandalous allegations in recent months, including questionable severance packages, sexual impropriety and falsified documents.

The board largely voiced support of Gilway — who took the helm of the state-run insurer in June — and saved criticism for the media, the former CEO and a few "bad apple" employees.

In recent months, at least two top executives at Citizens have resigned and Gov. Rick Scott has called for two separate investigations into its top management.

Gilway stood by a claim that Citizens terminated internal investigators who discovered the misconduct as part of a company restructuring effort — not as retaliation for exposing the company's dirty laundry.

Scott's chief inspector general is looking into the terminations.

Gilway and board members acknowledged that Citizens needed to make some changes, and said the company is beginning to take "corrective action" to address the various scandals.

"We have a new day in this company," said board chairman Carlos Lacasa. "And we will win back the credibility of the company in the eyes of the public."

Lacasa also lashed out at the media, referring specifically to a recent editorial in the Palm Beach Post that branded Citizens a "corruption-ridden scam artist that threatens Florida's economic recovery."

Such media criticism of Citizens is "shameful" and "designed to incite the public," he said.

Homeowners covered by Citizens have expressed outrage this year over the company's unpopular home re-inspection program, an 11 percent rate hike and news that executives were spending upward of $600 per night for luxury hotel rooms across the globe.

Scott's inspector general is investigating such expenditures.

"The state of Florida gave them this blanket ability to pull in money from homeowners," said Sharon Goessel, a 65-year-old from Palmetto Bay whose Citizens insurance rates are skyrocketing. "I want to be one of those executives at Citizens and go spend the night in a $580 hotel room."

Sean Shaw, a former insurance consumer advocate who works for a law firm that represents insurance policyholders, blasted the board at Citizens and called for the resignation of top executives.

"Instead of spending time talking about fixing abuses of the public trust, the board seems more interested in blaming the media for finding out about it," he said.

Some board members attacked Shaw, whose employer regularly battles Citizens in court, as someone who "has a direct financial stake" in seeing the company tarnished.

The board had less criticism for former employees and executives whose actions sullied Citizens' reputation, including the underwriting executive who resigned after a sex scandal blew up and the chief administration officer who resigned after several allegations of misconduct occurred within her unit.

Both received lucrative agreements worth tens of thousands of dollars after resigning, and Citizens helped the underwriting executive apply for unemployment compensation.

Gilway stopped short of criticizing the hefty severance agreements, but said a new policy will be drafted to clean up the process.

Citizens' board also spent much of Tuesday's meeting discussing the company's preliminary budget for next year.

The company expects to shrink from about 1.5 million policies to 1.2 million policies by the end of 2013, advancing Gov. Scott's push to downsize the state-backed insurer.

"Unlike the private sector, that's a good thing if we're shrinking," chief financial officer Sharon Binnun said.

Toluse Olorunnipa can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @ToluseO.

Comments
Crystal Lagoon planners cut the ribbon on a chilly day (w/video)

Crystal Lagoon planners cut the ribbon on a chilly day (w/video)

WESLEY CHAPEL — Mother Nature seems to have a way of putting a chill on one of the hottest amenities in residential real estate development.Members of the business community, elected officials and executives with Metro Development Group and Crystal L...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Consumer agency to spend rainy day funds

NEW YORK — The Trump-appointed acting director of the federal government’s consumer watchdog agency requested zero dollars of funding for its second-quarter budget, saying he intends to first spend down the agency’s rainy day fund. In a letter to the...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Tampa Bay area doesn’t make cut as Amazon second headquarter finalist

Tampa Bay area doesn’t make cut as Amazon second headquarter finalist

To no one’s surprise, Amazon on Thursday released its list of location finalists for its second headquarters, and neither Tampa nor St. Petersburg was on it."We knew it was going to be a long shot and a difficult road," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said....
Updated: 7 hours ago
Trump tweets create confusion on GOP plan to avert shutdown; Ryan tries to calm Republicans

Trump tweets create confusion on GOP plan to avert shutdown; Ryan tries to calm Republicans

WASHINGTON — The White House said Thursday that President Donald Trump supports a short-term spending bill to avert a government shutdown, as eroding support for the measure among Senate Democrats and some Republicans increased the prospects of a clo...
Updated: 8 hours ago

Deal clears way for Oldsmar townhomes

OLDSMAR — The City Council voted 4-1 last month in favor of approving a development agreement for a 50-unit townhome community on a nearly 4-acre parcel on St. Petersburg Drive. According to the terms of the agreement, Oldsmar Towns LLC will build a ...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Here are Tampa Bay's priciest home sales in 2017

Here are Tampa Bay's priciest home sales in 2017

If there’s one word to describe the buyers of Tampa Bay’s 25 priciest homes in 2017 it’s this: eclectic. As in previous years, the group included doctors, lawyers and professional sports figures — three of the homes were purc...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Ace Hardware in Oldsmar has those hard to find home items

Ace Hardware in Oldsmar has those hard to find home items

When Vision ACE Hardware opened in Oldsmar last November, the very first customer came in looking for a light bulb that he couldn’t find anywhere else."We had that lightbulb," said Stone Ackroyd, marketing manager. "That’s what ACE does. We have thos...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Mellow Mushroom opens third locationin Wesley Chapel

Mellow Mushroom opens third locationin Wesley Chapel

LUTZ — Mellow Mushroom opened the doors to its new location this week in Wesley Chapel.This is the third location for owner Rob Johnson, who opened the Mellow Mushroom in Brandon 12 years ago, and then expanded to Clearwater.Johnson began looking at ...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Sweets, savories and surprises at Jules’ Place in southeast Seminole Heights

Sweets, savories and surprises at Jules’ Place in southeast Seminole Heights

Tampa native Julie Harris worked for the City of Tampa for 22 years, under four mayoral administrations, until retiring as director of communications and neighborhood liaison in 2003.Her familiarity with Southeast Seminole Heights and countless conta...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Popular Spanish cuisine restaurant joins Hyde Park food scene

Popular Spanish cuisine restaurant joins Hyde Park food scene

HYDE PARK—Featuring popular Spanish cuisine, Bulla Gastrobar compliments Soho and Hyde Park’s vibrant restaurant scene offering an authentic Madrid-inspired tapas dining experience to be shared among friends for brunch, lunch and dinner. "Tampa is gr...
Updated: 12 hours ago