Governor Kitzhaber, Is Oregon the New North Dakota?
Dear Governor Kitzhaber,
I have been very critical in the past of the Peoples Republic of North Dakota (PRND), for the treatment received by a past director of Workforce Safety & Insurance. WSI is North Dakota's state fund for workers' compensation insurance, similar to your SAIF Corporation, except it is monopolistic. Unlike your agency it cannot be savaged by private competition should it ever prove completely dysfunctional. The Director of WSI, an incredibly honorable man named Sandy Blunt, was criminally prosecuted by the state for "misspending government funds". Those funds turned out to be $11,000 spent by the agency over 4 years for small employee motivational awards and beverages for employee meetings. It was, in my opinion, a gross miscarriage of justice carried out by the PRND.
Something similar, though not quite as extreme, appears to be happening in Oregon.
I write you today regarding the matter of John Plotkin, the now former CEO of SAIF, and his less than transparent termination from your employ. As a workers' compensation blogger who has little else to do with his time, the story of how his exit from SAIF was handled caught my interest, and I penned a couple articles discussing the travesty I believe it to be. The response to those articles surprised - no - stunned me.
Respectfully sir, you have a problem in your state. I simply write to inquire why you seem to be blind to what is happening there?
The outpouring of response from those who purport to be employees of SAIF is something I have never seen before, and something I did not expect. Sir, there are a great number of people in your state who are concerned about how Mr. Plotkin was treated, and to a greater level are concerned with the internal workings of your agency. Please do not take my word for it. I encourage you to see for yourself, here and here. I do not direct you to my articles, but rather encourage you to read the comments, pay attention to the positive ratings they are getting, and hear the frustration they convey.
Bear in mind that we deleted the most salacious of these comments, with several making unsubstantiated allegations suggesting inappropriate sexual relations between two of the key players in this scandal. I think, regardless of that component, the employees of SAIF have a very interesting story to tell, and given a safe and secure environment with which to do so, would be happy to speak to your investigators. These people are your employees, your citizens, your constituents; and their voices deserve to be heard by those elected to serve them.
Why was John Plotkin terminated? What were the specific details of the accusations against him? Why were processes apparently in place at SAIF not followed? And why have you not responded to calls for your review?
I have learned through many years of management experience that true leadership involves ownership; ownership of both positive actions and unpopular policies. Managers who pass the blame to higher authorities undermine both their own authority and credibility, while lessening their ability to motivate and lead. When delivering bad news or unpopular decisions, saying "we have to do this because our bosses say so", is not an effective management method. Likewise, justifying a negative action by saying "HQ has signed off on this" does nothing for the immediate leaders credibility. In fact, quite the opposite is true.
I thought of this principle when I heard that your SAIF board told those assembled at Plotkin's termination meeting, "the Governors office has signed off on this". If that statement is indeed accurate, it means that the buck has been passed, your boards influence and legitimacy has effectively been neutered, and you now own this situation.
I am afraid we cannot blame George W. Bush for this one, sir.
I understand that you are busy. You have a state to run, an election to manage and a federal investigation underway of potentially massive fraud within your state healthcare exchange. Still, if you could find some time between depositions and denials to look into the matter at hand your constituents and I would greatly appreciate it.
I do not know John Plotkin; I've never met the man. I don't even know why I am so interested in this. Perhaps it is just the sadness in the voices of the people I hear. Perhaps it is the disappointment and despair, or the embarrassment for an action that many believe should never have happened. Or maybe it is just that I am like a dog with a bone when I come across something that just feels wrong; I want to chew on that thing until all the flavor is gone.
And dadgummit sir, this feels like a pretty big bone. Something just seems wrong here. The people of your state need an outlet to be heard. God knows no media within Oregon is listening.
In retrospect, I suppose John Plotkin should count his blessings and be thankful your SAIF board was not trained in the PRND. Your board just canned his ass, instead of trying to send him to jail. Still, this deserves your attention. It needs some answers.
And it should be fixed.
Your state has, in my eyes, not quite reached the level of the PRND, but this story has all the makings of a spectacular scandal. Mystery, intrigue, and sexual innuendo make for compelling and ignominious tales. A failure to respond, failure to correct, and a failure to right a wrong will significantly improve your chances of assuming a place in the national State Fund Hall of Shame.
Governor Kitzhaber, this is an opportunity for leadership. It is an opportunity to own a problem, and if a wrong has been committed, to make that situation right. I ask you on behalf of your employees and your voters to intervene in this situation and let us know what really happened. More importantly, this is a chance to make sure it never happens again.
Thank you for your time and consideration, and good luck on that massive healthcare fraud thing.
Robert Wilson Author, "From Bob's Cluttered Desk"
For a list of Bob's other SAIF/Plotkin articles (as well as a couple old AASCIF articles that get picked up in the search), Click here.
Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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