Not you, fellow citizens. Who cares what you think? I’m apologizing to your betters: those hard-working — and occasionally hard-partying executives — at Citizens Property Insurance Corp.
Citizens provides catastrophic hurricane insurance for Florida homeowners. Lately, the company’s been buffeted by a cyclone of adverse publicity. Apparently the “media” has been on slanderous vendetta.
Citizens CEO Barry Gilway said so, anyway. He told his board of directors Tuesday how it was all the media’s fault, these wild misconceptions about mismanagement, lavish spending, sexual harassment, overly generous severance packages for the company’s ousted bad boys, cover-ups and bra-less Human Resources managers dancing on the bar top at Coyote Ugly.
Gilway was like a veritable thesaurus as he dredged up adjectives to describe the media’s treatment of his beleaguered operation. The Miami Herald’s Toluse Olorunnipa reported that Gilway called the news coverage preposterous, absurd, pathetic and shameful. Citizens Board Chairman Carlos Lacasa complained these stories were only “designed to incite the public.”
I’m guessing that those sham home “re-inspections” that led to jacked-up premiums for thousands of catastrophic-insurance policyholders (an average increase of $800) might have had more to do with the public’s attitude toward Citizens than a few unflattering newspaper stories.
But Gilway and Lacasa seemed sure that the media was responsible for besmirching the public’s perception of their pseudo-public operation. I guess I’m guilty, being temperamentally unable to resist writing about a scandal that includes company officials shedding garments in a rowdy bar. But I wonder how so many other Florida reporters and editorial writers got the same twisted notion of Citizens as “Insurers Gone Wild.”
There was, of course, the stuff Olorunnipa uncovered last summer about Citizen’s execs burning through expense accounts like drunken Lotto winners.Then the press fixated on that infamous 73-page report from Citizen’s own Office of Corporate Integrity, which detailed wild nights, bad behavior, sexual harassment, oversized severance packages and how Citizens paid outside law firms $2,403,952 since 2003 for investigations of misconduct that almost always were rigged to find the allegations “unsubstantiated.”
You could understand why Gilway was upset with the press coverage of the report. The press was never supposed to see it. The document had been secretly transformed into a few innocuous pages. Then the company fired those troublesome Corporate Integrity investigators and shut down the office.
Gilway railed about how that whole firing thing has been utterly misconstrued by the press. It was a coincidence, apparently, that all this unfolded as the company was amidst restructuring. And the Office of Corporate Integrity just happened to be restructured out of existence.
But you know how the media thinks. The boss fires the investigators who uncover company scandals. We make it seem soooooo suspicious.