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10 to watch in 2007: Citizens board member Carol Everhart

The veteran insurance agent and Citizens policyholder seemed an obvious choice for the post.

By Tom Zucco, Times Staff Writer
Published April 8, 2007


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photo
[Times photo: Cherie Diez]
Carol Everhart joins the Citizens Property Inusrance board of governors.

10 to watch in 2007
Meet some of the leaders who are likely to have the largest impact on the business community.

This is what intrigued Carol Everhart.

Besides its role as the state-backed insurer of last resort and its place as Florida's largest homeowners insurance company, Citizens Property Insurance is an open book. Anyone can listen in on a board meeting or sift through its books to see what money is spent where, two things unthinkable for a private insurance company.

A single mom who taught herself the insurance business and became one of BB&T Insurance Services' most productive condo insurance agents, Everhart kept finding herself at Citizens board meetings and public hearings.

Not just because she is a Citizens policyholder. Since most private insurers have fled the condo market in Pinellas County, about 90 percent of the business she writes is through Citizens.

"This is my carrier," she said recently. "This is who we independent agents are dealing with."

If Everhart was close to Citizens before, she'll be even closer now.

Two weeks ago, she was appointed to the Citizens board of governors, an eight-member panel charged with steering the most-watched company in Florida. Instead of a paycheck, board members get a staggering responsibility. Citizens insures more than 1.3-million homeowners, or about a third of the Florida market. Citizens' risk exposure is $432-billion and climbing.

In some respects, it's like joining the Flying Wallendas.

A registered independent who lives in Redington Beach, Everhart has a T-shirt on the back of her office chair that reads Stop B-------, Start A Revolution, a sign above her desk that reads Character Counts, and what friends describe as a passion for the plight of homeowners besieged by high premiums.

"She is an activist who's not afraid to get her hands dirty and get involved," said her boss, Rick Iler.

Everhart, 57, will serve two years and be a member of the depopulation and claims committees. Her focus is on two things: educating policyholders and agents and mitigation - making homes more hurricane-proof. "Mitigation," she said, "seems to be the only thing we have right now."

Perhaps the best way to gauge what role Everhart will play is to look at how she got the job.

"I went to those meetings because I needed to understand Citizens' finances, their reinsurance issues, their underwriting and claims capacity," she said. "I was able to share the agents' side of the insurance world and the voices of what we are hearing from our clients with Citizens, and they listened.

"I don't know why more agents don't go, because it gives you a great understanding and appreciation of what they do."

After one such meeting, Citizens board chairman Bruce Douglas asked Everhart if she would interview for an opening on the board. She agreed, and after meeting with Senate President Ken Pruitt, she got the job.

"I was somewhat taken aback," she said.

Douglas, however, was not.

"Carol is bright, experienced in insurance, energetic and very objective," he said. "Her objectives have always been to serve the customer, listen well and maintain the highest integrity."

Citizens has had its share of problems, including three top officials who were forced to resign two years ago amid allegations of kickbacks and conflict of interest.

The company doesn't have a mother ship in some other state that takes care of it. It has no agents, and its staff can usually earn a better salary elsewhere.

Everyone wants it to disappear, but just the opposite is happening. All the more reason Everhart feels she fits right in.

"Maybe I've always been a sucker for the underdog," she said. "People always ask me why insurance companies are able to leave Florida. I tell them it's because they're for-profit corporations and they have the legal right.

"But Citizens can't leave. And for a lot of us, that's not such a bad thing."

Tom Zucco can be reached at zucco@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8247.

[Last modified April 6, 2007, 20:37:19]


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