|By Charles Elmore, The Palm Beach Post, Fla.|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
A "targeted review report" on the contract is part of materials available online for a Citizens audit committee meeting Tuesday.
No other bidder came near the
Link's projected billing under the latest contract is more than
A review under the direction of Citizens chief of internal audit
"We could not, however, substantiate the criteria used when scoring fees subjectively hence impairing our ability to re-perform the scoring independently," the review said.
Citizens also lacked a "clear or defined negotiation strategy" to hold down fees, the report found.
Auditors treated those as "specific areas requiring additional attention" but reached this overall conclusion: "Based on the information gathered and the facts derived from the steps performed above, we have not discovered any instances or wrong-doing, violations of public trust, or conflicts of interest."
That provided little reassurance to those who have questioned the company's dealings with
"This entire process looks suspicious," Shaw said. "Citizens' decision to hire a coordinating counsel was unnecessary and wasteful for a many reasons. A private business would never do business this way. Citizens' attempt to have its own auditor review its procedures and declare the process fair and transparent is not comforting."
Citizens executives have maintained the contract is a great deal if Link's firm helps the company resolve 13,000 claims lawsuits more efficiently without necessarily setting foot in a courtroom, by directing strategy for other lawyers the company already pays. Link described his role in a company interview as "the mover of the chess pieces."
His firm cited no special expertise in property insurance before applying for the first of two contracts that stand to pay it more than
On applications asking for potential conflicts, the firm saw no need to disclose ties to former Citizens President
The audit report "did not find any direct evidence" that potential conflicts "had any influence on the outcome of the contract award."
Records reviewed by
Citizens president Gilway vigorously defended the award of the larger,
Some outside the company see it very differently. The deal "doesn't pass the smell test,"
As for negotiating fees down,
"I would certainly increase them if you insisted on it, but I would do it reluctantly," Link said. After the laughter subsided, Link repeated earlier statements that to lower the fees would be unfair to the firm's other clients.
Citizens hired a
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