Texas Windstorm Insurance Association: Part 5

Texas windstorm agency fires general manager; TWIA agency in turmoil

March 23, 2011
By Steve Miller,  Texas Watchdog

Making good on a decision it made in February, the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association board of directors Tuesday night fired its general manager, Jim Oliver, effective immediately.
The board replaced him with Randy Wipf, vice president for underwriting and agent services and a longtime Association employee, until a permanent replacement can be hired.

Earlier in the day, the board voted to hire IPS Search Inc., a Chicago-based company with windstorm and disaster personnel experience, for a national canvass for candidates to succeed Oliver. James Evan Cook, president of IPS Search, told the board Tuesday he would return to it with a list of prospective general managers by April 11.

Oliver, who took over the helm of the 40-year-old quasi-governmental insurance agency 11 years ago, declined to discuss his sacking by the board. Board members, after meeting in closed session for five hours, voted in public to replace Oliver, but issued no statement about their decision.

The replacement of Oliver comes after a tumultuous six months punctuated by legislators questioning the legitimacy of a state-backed agency providing insurance for homeowners and businesses in the state’s 14 coastal counties. Rep. John Smithee, chairman of the House Insurance Committee, and Rep. Larry Taylor, a member of the committee, have filed bills that would significantly reform the windstorm association.

In particular, both lawmakers have expressed concerns that in the wake of Hurricane Ike, the state’s charter for the windstorm association allowed for at least $140 million in lawsuit settlements. Both bills ask for curbs on settlements and deadlines for filing claims.

An inquiry about the legal fees paid in the settlements ignited a fight between Tayor and lawyer Steve Mostyn, whose Houston law firm has been a foremost beneficiary. Taylor, a Republican insurance company owner in Friendswood, has profited from policies sold for the windstorm agency.

Mostyn’s involvement was further complicated by his donating $25,000 to the campaign of Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, who was not only a former lobbyist for the windstorm association but served as the mediator for the Hurricane Ike bloc settlement of at least $140 million that drew Taylor’s attention.