Remember Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker in Batman: The Dark Knight? There was nothing at all amusing about his performance. He played The Joker as a sinister, sadistic, creepy, lowlife bottom-dweller who took great pleasure in the pain of his victims. And that laugh – that evil laugh made us all realize that all jokes aren’t necessarily funny – especially when the joke is on us.
Last Sunday, the Miami Herald reported on the amazing dinners, vacations, and raises gladly dispensed to Citizens Insurance executives, even as they tighten the screws on policyholders. That’s right – the head honchos of the state-run windstorm insurer of last resort have been partying like drunken sailors while drastically raising rates and cutting benefits in their attempt to depopulate Citizens’ rolls and force people into more expensive and sometimes questionable private carriers.
How bad is it? Well, we can be happy (sort of) that Citizens President Barry Gilway did not get a raise in 2013 and is stuck just making $350,000 per year. Sharon Binnun, Citizens CFO, got a $31,000 raise bringing her to $255,000 per year – on top of a Citizens-financed $35,000 junket trip to four-star hotels in four different nations. One of these excursions was a weekend getaway to a $655/night luxurious resort in Bermuda. (I’m sure there was a lot of discussion and “fact-finding” concerning Florida’s windstorm insurance going on there.)
Yong Gilroy, Chief Insurance Officer, also got a $31,000 raise to $255,000 per year. Curtis Overpeck, Chief Information Officer, got a $29,750 raise to $210,000 per year. Daniel Sumner, General Counsel, got a $23,000 raise to $215,000 per year. In comparison, all other state employees have gone six years without any raise at all.
Anyone feel like laughing at this joke?
While Florida hasn’t had a hurricane since Wilma in 2005, Citizens has been collecting billions in premiums, surcharges, and rate hikes while claiming its $15 billion portfolio isn’t large enough. According to the Herald, “Citizens also received a $715 million taxpayer bailout and the promise of millions more if it ever runs out of money again. Awash in a record amount of cash and bolstered by a taxpayer safety net, the state-run insurer has been operating more like a private company than a tax-exempt government entity.”
The Herald also reported that the Citizens Board hired Barry Gilway based upon his answer to the question of how he would shrink Citizens. His answer? Raise rates. Said Gilway, “The attraction has to be [raising] rates and getting them at an appropriate level so that we can attract private industry.” The Board hired Gilway on the spot, and then adjourned for dinner at Ocean Prime, an upscale surf & turf joint. As reported in the Herald, the dinner tab was $918.34 for seven or eight officials, who dined on gourmet fare and gulped down $369 worth of Grey Goose vodka and red wine. And this wasn’t an isolated dinner. Like the old local School District, there are a lot of company credit cards floating among employees, and Citizens reported travel and meal expenses of more than $1.3 million in the first eight months of last year.
And the spending wasn’t limited to airline tickets and fine dining. As the Herald reported, “State regulators found that contracts with private vendors ate up 20 cents out of every $1 paid to Citizens by policyholders. In most cases, Citizens gave the contracts without soliciting bids, and often chose vendors that were much more expensive than other options.”
Feel like laughing now? Although reforms are allegedly being put into place, I can easily picture Barry Gilway and his fellow Citizens executives all laughing like The Joker in their boardrooms and luxury suites. While it may be funny to them, the joke is still on us. Please help FIRM in their efforts to help us win the battle against the jokers who eat, drink, and be merry at our expense. www.FIRMKeys.net