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Citizens' CEO welcomes investigation by Fla. gov

BRENT KALLESTAD, Associated Press
Tuesday, 23 Oct 2012 | 10:04 AM ET

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The president of the Citizens Property Insurance Corp. said Monday he supports an investigation into its business operations by Gov. Rick Scott's office.

Barry Gilway, a longtime private sector CEO who has been at the helm of the state-backed insurer since mid-June, said he was naive to not include several elected officials in some recent decisions that have led to a barrage of criticism of the state's largest property insurer.

"I learned a lesson," Gilway said during an hour long teleconference with reporters. "My lack of background in the public space, frankly, caused me to operate like a real CEO in a private organization and possibly not consider the audiences that should have been considered."

Only hours before, two advocacy groups asked Scott to have Florida's chief inspector general investigate why an employee unit charged with keeping an eye on expenses at the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. was recently fired.

"Taxpayers and policyholders deserve accountability," said Sean Shaw, a self-described insurance policyholder advocate, and Dan Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida.

Republican state Sen. Mike Fasano of New Port Richey fired off a terse three paragraph letter to Scott, asking for a broader investigation into Citizens' operations.

"The Office of Corporate Integrity should be the watchdog, not the scapegoat," Fasano said.

Scott, sent Gilway a letter last week in which he called the decision to terminate employees troubling at a time when the governor's inspector general is reviewing reports of lavish travel expenses by top executives at the company. Scott ordered the probe after news reports detailed expensive hotel stays and flights abroad.

Gilway refuted allegations that the dismissal of four employees was anything further than a disagreement about the direction and responsibilities of the office. He conceded that he received push back when he was making changes.

"We had an organization that simply was not effective in meeting the job objectives that we believe were absolutely critical," Gilway said.

Some of those concerns included chain-of-command and who was responsible for policing a variety of misdeeds, whether it be internal fraud or sexual harassment in the workplace. Gilway said many of those responsibilities should be handled by Citizens' 72-person human resources office.

Gilway said he has not met personally with Scott, but communicated instead with several of the governor's aides.

Citizens' is the state's largest property insurer with 1.4 million customers and wants to significantly reduce its customer base to improve its ability to meet claims obligations in the wake of a catastrophic hurricane or series of storms. The company 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 lays in the high-risk coastal areas of Florida that are prone to hurricane damage.