Citizens Property Insurance Corp. President Barry Gilway said Tuesday he made a “dumb decision” in how he went about abolishing the firm’s Office of Corporate Integrity earlier this year.Gilway conceded it was a mistake to do away with the office in the midst of an attorney general’s investigation into alleged travel expense irregularities. He said he should first have taken action against underperforming employees in the office.
“Dumb decision? Yes,” Gilway told members of the insurer’s governing board. “My decision? Yes.”
Gilway was hired less than six months ago after four decades in the private sector as an insurance executive. He said a number of needed safeguards were not in place at Citizens between 2004 and earlier this year, including no written policy on severance agreements.
He quickly ran up against politicians, who have tried, albeit without much success, for a decade to make improvements at Citizens, which has ballooned into the state’s largest property insurer with 1.4 million customers.
Gov. Rick Scott ordered an investigation last month to review Citizens’ decision to fire four employees responsible for finding wrongdoing in the agency after reports of lavish travel expenses some executives.
Gilway wants to significantly reduce the Citizens’ customer base to improve its ability to pay claims in the aftermath of a catastrophic hurricane or series of storms. It was created a decade ago as the “insurer of last resort” to provide property insurance for business and home owners who could not otherwise find affordable coverage in the private market. Much of its business is in the high-risk coastal areas of Florida that are prone to hurricane damage.
Gilway also said problems at the state-backed insurer have been greatly exaggerated in some reports and that the actions of a few shouldn’t tarnish all 1,300 employees at the company who are doing a good job.
“We will win back the credibility of this company in the eyes of the public, but I call upon the press to help us do that by reporting on us responsibly and accurately and to give us a little leeway,” board chairman Carlos Lacasa said.