Inspector general is asked to investigate Citizens ethics

Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald

By Mary Ellen Klaas

Published June 5, 2014 


TALLAHASSEE -- Two top executives at Citizens Property Insurance called Monday for an investigation into the way the state-run insurer handles employees who leave the agency to go to work for companies that receive contracts. 

Citizens CEO Barry Gilway and board chairman Chris Gardner asked the agency’s inspector general, Bruce Meeks, to conduct an independent investigation in the wake of a report by the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times on the recent exodus of executives who have left the state-run insurance company to work for vendors. 

State law prohibits employees who are responsible for a contract from leaving a state agency to work for a company that holds that contract. Citizens applies the law only to senior executives and members of the board of directors, and says there is no ethical breach when an employee with oversight of a company contract takes a job at that company but handles other matters. 

The Herald/Times investigation found that in the past three years, at least three senior executives at Citizens Property Insurance who were in charge of multimillion-dollar contracts awarded to private companies went to work months later for those companies.

The head of the Florida Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, has called for changes to the existing ethics law to ensure “that we not only prevent impropriety but any appearance of impropriety.”

Gilway and Gardner said in a joint statement that they were confident Citizens was applying the laws appropriately. But Gilway said the review was needed “to ensure Citizens is operating in a transparent and ethical manner.”

Dan Krassner, director of the non-profit government watchdog institute Integrity Florida, also on Monday called for Meeks to investigate the ethics practices at Citizens, but he also urged the inspector general to investigate whether the contracts cited in the Herald/Times story “provided the best deals for the public.”

“The public deserves to know if Citizens executives are privately gaining from their positions with the state-run insurer,” Krassner said in a statement.

Gardner noted that Citizens has a “unique role as a government entity providing insurance similar to the private market.”

He said that in the past two years, Citizens has made “increased oversight and transparency a top priority and has carefully reviewed and strengthened its internal oversight procedures regarding travel expenses, procurement and governance. 

“I look forward to a review by our inspector general to ensure that post-employment guidelines are also appropriate,” Gardner said.

In 2013, the Florida Legislature created the inspector general position to provide oversight at Citizens and, in December, Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet appointed Meeks to the role.

Meeks, a Tallahassee lawyer, reports to the governor and Cabinet, which serve as the Financial Services Commission. The law prevents Citizens staff members from interfering with his investigations.