In My Opinion

‘Shameless’ doesn’t do justice to Citizens execs’ expenses

 

fsantiago@MiamiHerald.com

I wish there was a better translation than shameless for descarados, the perfect word to describe the Citizens Property Insurance executives who — while pleading poverty, raising rates, cutting coverage and booting Floridians off their insured roster — have treated themselves at our expense to lavish trips, luxury hotel stays, wine-infused meals and the ultimate $502 airport car service.

Shameless doesn’t even begin to describe them — or Gov. Rick Scott, ultimately responsible for allowing the state-operated insurer to spend without restraint. But no surprise there. Like his drug-testing policies, the governor’s austerity measures and suck-it-up mandates were meant for us, the taxpayers and homeowners, not for his brethren.

But here – warning: this will make your blood pressure rise — is a small sampling of the outrageous expenditures uncovered by reporters Toluse Olorunnipa of The Miami Herald and Jeff Harrington and Susan Taylor Martin of the Tampa Bay Times.

Their story on Citizens’ abuses is a must-read for all Floridians:

•  As Citizens’ Chief Financial Officer, Sharon Binnun should know better, but it wasn’t enough to treat herself to a weekend in Bermuda when she only had a Monday morning meeting and lunch to attend with potential investors. Not content with the splurge, Binnun upgraded her $459-a-night deluxe room at the aptly named Fairmont Hamilton Princess, bringing the cost to $633 a night.

What Binnun spent on her hotel alone, $2,013, would have covered the insurance hike faced by people like the 79-year-old retired librarian in Coral Gables on a fixed income who is considering leaving the house she loves.

Similarly, Princess Binnun ran up other outrageously high bills at the Ritz-Carlton and Trump Soho hotels in New York and at similar swankdoms in London and Zurich.

And how about that $250 bottle of wine?

•  Unencumbered by the spending caps of the rank-and-file, Citizens executives and board members, past and present, repeatedly dine at fancy restaurants with each other and pay more than $50 per person for entrees like rack of venison and Dungeness crab. But nothing like the meal that cost 540 pounds — that’s an $854 bill — racked up at London’s Le Pont de la Tour by former president Scott Wallace.

•  If you think the executives’ meetings in Florida are cheaper than their overseas escapades, read on. Two catered luncheons for 13 employees at a Tampa Marriot: $9,248 (my entire daughter’s wedding at a beautiful venue with a fabulous Italian buffet for 70 guests cost way less).

Spending gets more cynical, though. While he was crisscrossing the state trying to convince newspapers that Citizens was at the brink of catastrophe and needed to raise rates, former president Tom Grady hired a limousine service to shuttle him around Tampa for $605.

How can these people sit at public hearings and look at the people of Florida in danger of losing their homes with a straight face?

Their spending exposed, one would expect that at least Scott and Citizens Board Chairman Carlos Lacasa would institute better fiscal controls and set caps, sending the clear message that this level of spending is unacceptable for an insurer that’s taxpayer-subsidized and got a $715 million bailout six years ago.

But Lacasa contends that these executives have saved “millions of dollars” as a result of all these outrageous travels expenditures, which ensure that they rest comfortably at their destinations.

As if the thread-count of bedding ever gave anyone any added brain matter, when the only solution these executives and their board can ever come up with is raising the rates of those who can least afford it.

But, then again, this “volunteer” chairman, (read: tax deduction) a Miami lawyer who can afford to pay his own lunch tab, also charges hundred-dollar lunches to Citizens.

The chairman is just another descarado, and I don’t have to translate for him what that means.

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