Furness Starting as Interim North Dakota Workers’ Comp Director

March 21, 2008

Bruce Furness, who helped resolve some festering city personnel problems as mayor of Fargo, plans to start next week as the interim chief executive of North Dakota’s troubled workers compensation agency.

The Workforce Safety and Insurance board of directors voted unanimously on Wednesday to offer the job to Furness, and he accepted. Furness said he will be paid $146,000 annually, which is $12,166 a month.

Furness’ No. 1 job is to “restore public confidence,” Mark Gjovig, the board’s chairman said. “Just getting out there and communicating all of the positive things that we’ve been doing all along.

“In the midst of all this scrutiny that has been caused by various reasons, we still have a good organization,” Gjovig said.

Furness said he planned to begin work March 26. He expects to have the director’s job for at least until year’s end.

“One of the very first things I would do is just to start talking to people, and listening to people,” Furness said. “I’d start, probably, with the senior management team, and work down to front-line employees.”

He also intends to consult “with all the stakeholders, with representatives of the workers, with businesses, with the physician concerns, legislators,” he said. “I need to understand their perspectives.”

Furness, 68, is a former development manager and systems engineer for IBM. He has most recently been working part time as a vice president for a Fargo bank.

He is a former member of Fargo’s City Commission and school board and was the city’s mayor from 1994 to 2006. As mayor, he established a committee of city employees to hear suggestions and complaints, and led an effort to standardize personnel practices among city departments.

Furness will succeed John Halvorson, WSI’s chief of employer services, as the agency’s temporary director. Halvorson has held the job since Workforce Safety’s director, Sandy Blunt, was forced out of his job in December. Blunt had held the job since April 2004.

A consultants’ report on Workforce Safety’s management recommended that the board hire an interim chief executive officer from outside the agency. It said workers’ morale was low, in part because of a bungled reorganization of one of WSI’s key departments.

A screening committee interviewed five candidates for the position, and recommended three finalists — Furness, Fargo businessman John Vastag and Layne Kertamus, a former vice president for operations at Montana’s workers compensation fund.

The WSI board voted unanimously to hire Furness. He was the only choice mentioned during the board’s meeting.

Gov. John Hoeven has advocated Furness’ hiring, and the governor issued a statement lauding the appointment.

“Throughout his career, in both the private sector and as mayor of Fargo for 12 years, (Furness) has demonstrated his management skills, as well as his ability to work with people and the public,” the governor said.

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