$633 “Gold’’ room
In its examination of Citizens’ travel costs, the Herald/Times reviewed expense records for the seven highest-paid current and past executives authorized to carry credit cards. The top spender: Binnun, Citizens’ chief financial officer.
From January 2011 to June, Binnun spent at least $70,000, while traveling. She checked into expensive hotels, including three in Manhattan this year — the New York Palace, Ritz-Carlton and Trump Soho — that cost, respectively, $549 a night, $539 a night and $356 a night.
In April, Binnun flew to Bermuda to meet with potential investors for Citizens bonds, which the company issues to lessen its risks. At the Fairmont Hamilton Princess, she upgraded her $459-a-night deluxe room by another $100 to “gold” status, bringing the cost, with taxes, to $633 per night.
The upgrade included Internet service, use of the office center and breakfast, though Binnun billed Citizens for several other meals.
Binnun arrived in Bermuda on a Friday and stayed in the waterfront room all weekend even though the only business duties on her official itinerary came on Monday. After a 9:30 a.m. meeting and lunch, she left Bermuda with a $2,031 bill for the hotel alone. Although Citizens’ travel policy recommends written approval for all weekend travel expenses, Binnun did not seek permission for a weekend stay.
The trip — Binnun’s second to Bermuda in as many months — was part of an international swing in which she traveled to New York, Zurich and to London, twice, to meet with reinsurance companies.
The total cost for the trips, including two nights at London’s elegant Dukes Hotel: More than $10,000.
Ashburn, the Citizens spokeswoman, said Citizens tries to get the best rates on hotels convenient to where executives need to be. But, she said, accommodations can be tough to find in certain places, including Bermuda in the spring when U.S. insurance executives converge on the island to buy reinsurance for the upcoming storm season.
Binnun, whose annual salary is $224,000, had no apologies for her travel costs.
“The value of these trips, I think, speak for themselves,” she said. “You saw the agendas… It wasn’t playtime on those trips, certainly.”
Seeing the state
Even when they were in Florida, Binnun and other Citizens executives ran up hefty travel bills.
That’s partly because the company’s operations are spread among three cities — Jacksonville, Tampa and Tallahassee, where Citizens has its corporate headquarters.
Citizens officials say multiple offices make sense because they have policyholders all over Florida. Moreover, if a Citizens office in one city was knocked out by a hurricane, work could shift to another location.
But in normal times, the far-flung operations mean executives spend much of their time on the road. In their final two years at Citizens, Wallace, the former president, and Paul Palumbo, the former chief underwriter, spent a total of nearly $70,000, mostly for in-state travel.
Almost half of Palumbo’s expenses were for shuttling between his Tallahassee office and Jacksonville.
Wallace, based in Jacksonville, made frequent trips in the other direction, driving his company-issued Acura to meet with staff in Tallahassee.