Still, expense reports filed since the new travel policy took effect raise questions about whether certain trips were worth the cost.
On the afternoon of Nov. 5, Gilway flew from Jacksonville to Tampa, where he met with Binnun and a consultant to discuss "depopulation’’ — Citizens’ effort to downsize and become more efficient. Gilway and Binnun then joined Lacasa and three others for dinner at Armani’s, a posh restaurant atop the Grand Hyatt hotel. Even with an "eat more" discount of $134, the food bill plus tip came to $320.42. Gilway charged the tab to his Citizens corporate card at the request of Lacasa, who told him the meal qualified as a business expense. In addition to veal shank, salmon and oysters, the six consumed an unspecified amount of "wine and spirits’’ that Lacasa paid for at his own expense, according to a note on Gilway’s expense form.
Gilway spent the night at a Tampa hotel and flew back to Jacksonville the next morning, ending a trip that took less than 24 hours but cost $1,052. He filed his expense report Dec. 10, almost two weeks after the 15-day limit specified by the new policy. And he wrote on the form that he had been in Miami, not Tampa.
Among the reasons for Citizens’ high travel costs has been the practice of sending numerous employees to board meetings held at hotels around the state.
Last spring, Citizens spent nearly $28,000 for two days of meetings at a Tampa hotel. After the new policy took effect, Citizens held a board meeting in Orlando, where the Peabody’s reduced rate helped hold costs for the 27 attendees to $16,600. The tab included catered lunches and a $50 room service dinner for Gilway.
At night, groups of Citizens employees hit two of Orlando’s top restaurants, Vito’s Chop House and Ocean Prime, some racking up individual tabs of $90 or more. They were reimbursed up to $60 per dinner, more than three times the $19 limit on dinners set by most state agencies.
Ashburn, the Citizens spokeswoman, said only "essential staff’’ will attend future board meetings to ensure a "significant reduction’’ in costs.
Since the travel policy was tightened, Citizens executives have submitted justifications for hotel stays that exceeded the new limits.
Last month, Binnun wrote a two-page memo to Citizens accounting department to justify spending $379 a night at the Fairmont Princess Hotel in Bermuda, where she negotiated cheaper rates on reinsurance. Such trips saved Citizens $47 million in 2012, she said. (Binnun paid $633 a night in the same hotel last year after upgrading to "gold status.’’)
At a late October industry conference, Binnun and Gilway each paid $365 a night for rooms at the Surf & Sand Resort in Laguna Beach, Calif.
On the receipt Binnun submitted to Citizens accountants was a handwritten note: "This hotel was booked (in July) before CPIC changed the policy regarding out of state hotels.’’
Still, Binnun and Gilway had time to switch to less expensive lodgings. As stated on its invoices, Surf & Sand permits bookings to be canceled up to 72 hours before check-in.