TALLAHASSEE, Florida - A decision by Citizens Property Insurance Corporation to eliminate its Office of Corporate Integrity is raising some tough questions for the state-operated insurance company.
Citizens fired four people in the Office of Corporate Integrity after Gov. Rick Scott ordered an investigation into whether some Citizens executives lavishly spent company funds. The investigation was ongoing.
Critics say it looks as if Citizens President Barry Gilway got rid of employees in that office because they might have been doing a good job of uncovering financial abuse.
Citizens denies that's the case but the company admits it made a mistake in the timing of those employees' firings.
Spokeswoman Christine Ashburn says Citizens wants to beef up its forensic accounting efforts and those employees did not have the expertise for that kind of work. Instead, she says, they were focused more on employee grievances and performance problems.
Now Ashburn says the company is looking to hire forensic accountants and is shifting the duties of the Corporate Integrity Office to other departments.
"This is not in any way an indication that Citizens is trying to reduce its focus on these areas. It's unfortunate that, like the governor has said, we did this while that investigation was still going on. Hindsight is 20-20. He is absolutely right. The timing was not so good on our part and we should've looked at those more closely together. You always learn from your mistakes."
Ashburn says Citizens' corporate integrity efforts will be handled by other business units, such as the Office of Internal Audit, the Ethics Officer and the Employee Relations Office.
Ashburn says the changes strengthen corporate integrity.
"I think it's important that the public know none of the complaints are being dropped because of this transition time. Nothing has been dropped and I hate that that's been the message that's been put out there because obviously that doesn't paint us in a good light."
This week Gov. Rick Scott sent a letter to Gilway, urging him to make sure money is not misspent.
Scott said he was troubled that Citizens did not hire forensic accountants before eliminating the Office of Integrity.
"While I understand your desire to reduce redundancy and create efficiencies within Citizens, such efficiencies cannot be achieved at the expense of accountability, transparency, and compliance."