in Houston, Texas
Order to block consumer e-mail complaints misunderstood, state insurance department says
Wednesday, Aug 15, 2012, 11:43AM CST
By Mike Cronin
Halt

Alex Winslow refused to accept Eleanor Kitzman’s contention last month that nothing could be done to remedy expensive homeowners insurance.

So the executive director of Texas Watch, a consumer advocacy nonprofit organization based in Austin, organized an e-mail campaign calling for help.

Texas Watch urged people to e-mail Kitzman, the Texas Department of Insurance commissioner, directly about her July statements to the state Senate Business and Commerce Committee.

But a senior Kitzman staff member “ordered the department's technology staff to prevent emails from people affiliated with Texas Watch... from being delivered to Kitzman,” according to an e-mail sent by the staffer and obtained through an open records request by the Austin American-Statesman.

"The department took decisive action to block emails from the citizens they are supposed to serve," Winslow told the Statesman.

Jerry Hagins, a spokesman for the Insurance Department, said that it was never the commissioner's intent to reject the emails.  "Her intention was to respond to them," Hagins said.

A sudden high volume of messages flooded Kitzman's email account and shut it down, Hagins said.

During the attempt to restore her e-mail, Kenneth Stock, assistant to the chief of staff, sent his own internal e-mail calling for a block to be put on mass e-mails to Kitzman. In hindsight, Hagins told the Statesman, the department should have created a folder to collect all of the form e-mails that poured in.

Kitzman has since responded to some of the e-mails, Hagins said.

Winslow called the response nothing more than “platitudes and generalizations” that did not begin to address how policyholders could deal with high-cost, low-coverage insurance policies.

***

Contact Mike Cronin at mike@texaswatchdog.org or 713-228-2850. Follow him on Twitter at@michaelccronin or @texaswatchdog.

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Photo of Halt by flickr user Thomas Hawk, used via a Creative Commons license.

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