John Wortman, a Citizens board member, said it is time to look more closely at spending and credit card use.
While head of Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance, another state-run insurer, Wortman banned corporate cards after an executive went to prison for charging personal expenses, including Mardi Gras trips for his daughters.
“I’m concerned about expenses and I’ll make sure we get it brought to management attention,’’ Wortman said.
Playing by its own rules
Many Florida property owners have no choice but to get coverage through Citizens, the state’s “insurer of last resort” that has swollen to cover more than 1.4 million policyholders as private companies cut back in the state. Even homeowners not covered by Citizens pay the company assessments to cover damage from storms years ago.
It has been more than six years since Florida was hit by a major hurricane, and Citizens has collected enough in premiums and taxpayer funds to build up a $6.2 billion cash surplus.
But Citizens says its finances are still precarious. It has pushed for the maximum rate increases allowed by law and has re-inspected thousands of homes, looking for reasons to rescind credits owners received for reinforcing their houses against storms.
Other state agencies have slashed budgets and employees in line with Gov. Rick Scott’s austerity mandate. Yet at Citizens — run by a board appointed by the governor and other elected officials — travel costs are projected to rise about 130 percent this year, to nearly $3.4 million from $1.5 million.
Citizens officials say they routinely overestimate travel expenses during the annual budgeting process. Actual costs are usually far less, they say.
Although Citizens is subsidized by taxpayers and received a $715 million bailout six years ago, it does not abide by state travel reimbursement laws that limit meals to a maximum of $19 per day.
Instead, ignoring a state audit that questioned whether it could legally set its own limits, Citizens allows most employees to bill up to $25 for a meal. Senior executives, however, have no monetary cap. They are required only to keep their meal costs “reasonable.’’
“I don’t think there’s an expectation of people eating at McDonald’s every night,” said Citizens spokeswoman Christine Ashburn.
Though executives sometimes grab a quick burger while on the road, just as often they splurge.
When Lacasa, the board chairman, went to London in April with Chief Financial Officer Sharon Binnun and Chief Insurance Officer Yong Gilroy to meet with insurers, the trio had a dinner at the Don Restaurant & Bistro that worked out to $73.30 per person — more than three times the company’s limit for most employees.
Citizens’ accounting department approved the entire $234.91 bill.
Lacasa, a Miami attorney, defended the travel costs.
“These executives work very hard. They travel great distances,’’ he said. “I have no problem with their having a comfortable environment so they’re rested and can produce the kind of stellar results they do.’’
Lacasa has had other meals on Citizens’ tab, including a $121.55 lunch in Miami with Wallace, the former president.
“I’m a volunteer, I spend no less than 20 hours a month minimum doing [Citizens’] work,’’ Lacasa said. “If I have to meet with the CEO I’m going to try to kill two birds with one stone and have lunch.’’