TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A review by Florida's chief inspector general contends that employees at the state-created Citizens Property Insurance Corp. racked up excessive travel expenses over an eight-month period.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott ordered a review of expenses at the insurer following a report by The Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times that detailed how top officials stayed at luxury hotels and ate at expensive restaurants.
The review says that while most travel expenses met Citizens written guidelines, they are excessive by state standards. Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel recommended Citizens be required to follow the same laws that state employees follow.
In a statement, Scott said he agreed with his inspector general and said the insurer was in "urgent need" of reforms.
"A company this large, supported by hard-working Florida families, must be held to the highest standards of integrity," Scott said.
Citizens President Barry Gilway said in a statement that the insurer would follow most of the recommendations "to better comply with state travel standards."
"We have reviewed the report's findings and recommendations and agree that, as guardians of public funds, we must hold ourselves to a more rigorous standard," Gilway stated. "...By acting in the most fiscally prudent manner possible, we hope to begin restoring the public confidence in our ability to better serve as sound financial guardians for our policyholders and all Florida taxpayers."
Citizens is Florida's largest property insurer and has 1.31 million policyholders, including many people who live in the state's coastal areas.
Citizens finances have come under scrutiny because the insurer has been pushing to raise its rates and change its coverage in order to lessen its exposure in the event of a major hurricane. State lawmakers this year may pass legislation that allows Citizens to raise its rates 13 percent a year — an increase from the current 10 percent cap.