Former N.D. Work Comp Exec, House Leader Want CEO Job

March 12, 2008

A former North Dakota workers’ compensation director and a one-time state House majority leader are among those interested in serving as a temporary chief executive at Workforce Safety and Insurance, agency directors said.

Another potential candidate, Heidi Heitkamp, a former North Dakota attorney general and tax commissioner, said she was not interested in the position.

A five-member committee of Workforce Safety board members met in Bismarck to pass along expressions of interest for the job, and settle on a timetable for hiring someone. They hope to fill the job by the end of next week.

The group plans to meet again to discuss a list of six semifinalists to interview, said the committee’s chairman, Mark Jackson, of Fargo. Individuals who are interested were expected to submit resumes or letters.

Last week, a consultant recommended that WSI’s board of directors hire an interim chief executive from outside the agency while the directors seek a permanent replacement for Sandy Blunt, who was forced out last December.

John Halvorson, Workforce Safety’s chief of employer services, is now the interim chief executive. His successor as interim director should serve for no more than nine months, said Mark Gjovig, who is chairman of the full WSI board.

Ed Grossbauer, of Grand Forks, who is a member of the screening committee, said he was told Heitkamp was interested in the interim position. Heitkamp, in an interview, said she believes a majority of the agency’s board is not focused on improving the lot of injured workers, and that runs counter to her own philosophy.

“Someone with my attitude would never get the support of the board of directors,” Heitkamp said.

Her name, and that of former Insurance Commissioner Jim Poolman, were floated as possible candidates. Poolman said last week he would not consider the job.

Pat Traynor, who was North Dakota’s workers compensation director under former Gov. Ed Schafer, and a cousin, Paul Traynor, a Devils Lake attorney and former insurance executive, were mentioned as candidates.

John Dorso, a former North Dakota House Republican majority leader, expressed interest, as have former Fargo mayor Bruce Furness; John Vasteg, a Fargo businessman; Dean Haas, an assistant attorney general; and state Rep. Ron Carlisle, R-Bismarck, board members said.

Dorso was a leader in the push for changes in North Dakota’s workers compensation law in the mid-1990s, when the agency was in financial difficulties. He declined to seek re-election to his state House seat in 2000 in favor of a run for Congress, which he lost to incumbent Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D.

Dorso said he would like to advocate that Workforce Safety be converted to a private mutual insurance company, owned by North Dakota employers.

Other private companies should be allowed to sell workers’ compensation insurance, and employers should have the option of self-insuring, Dorso said in a phone interview. Neither option is presently allowed by state law; WSI is the only legal provider of insurance against workplace injuries.

“I’d love to come back and run WSI long enough to get it mutualized, and then I’d be down the road,” Dorso said. A former Fargo businessman, Dorso now lives in Venice, Fla.

Haas has represented the workers compensation agency and as a private attorney has represented injured workers who were contesting its decisions. In law review articles, Haas has argued the North Dakota Legislature has gone too far in favoring business interests when setting workers compensation policy.

Hoeven has said he favors Furness, who is a former systems manager and development engineer at IBM. Carlisle, who is not running for re-election to his state House seat this fall, is a former state workers compensation commissioner, during a time in which the agency was headed by a three-person board.

The screening committee plans to take application for the interim chief executive’s. The panel’s members then will rank their preferences. They plan to meet to discuss them and suggest six semifinalists to interview.

Jackson said he hoped the interviews could take place March 18, so a list of three finalists could be forwarded to the full 11-member board.

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