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OUR OPINION: Firings at Citizens Insurance deserve second look

HeraldEd@MiamiHerald.com

Doesn’t Pass the Smell Test Dept.: A new report by the state’s chief inspector-general that found nothing wrong in the abrupt dismissal of four internal investigators at Citizens Insurance Corp. last year after they had uncovered scandalous corporate misbehavior that embarrassed the state-run property insurer.

Really? Connect the dots:

First, the investigators from the Office of Corporate Integrity uncovered an embarrassing series of abuses inside the company, including huge severance packages for disgraced executives who resigned amid scandal, the mishandling of several internal complaints and a pattern of favoritism to some employees, including top executives..

Next came the justifiable outcry from state officials, including Gov.Rick Scott. Citizens executives promised to clean up their act, but the next step only made matters worse.

In October, the four corporate investigators were told that their services were no longer needed because their office was being disbanded. The 73-page report they had issued was gutted and OCI was abruptly shut down.

The official reason given was that the investigators lacked the proper “forensics” skills to identify and initiate investigations of potential internal fraud or policy violations, but many were skeptical. Gov. Scott said the dismissals had “the appearance of impropriety.”

Even last week’s draft report on the firings by Melinda Miguel, chief Inspector General for Gov. Scott, said Citizens’ claims of poor performance by the investigators came out of the blue, raising “performance issues” that had never been raised before.

One month after their firings came the disclosure that, at the time of their dismissals, the fired watchdogs were investigating how Citizens had handled previous allegations of sexual harassment, drunken disrobing, irregular severance payments, and other improprieties.

Ms. Miguel’s report finds no clear evidence that executives acted in revenge against the the investigators, but it’s hard to believe the firings were just a case of bad timing.

The report mustn’t be the end of the story. State lawmakers should hold public hearings in which Citizens executives are called to account for the dismissals. It may be the only way to find out what really happened.

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