Documents that tell a tale of termination are slowly, glacially, dripping out of SAIF in response to various Public Records Requests, and they shed an interesting light on the back story involving the entire sordid tale recounted here over the last month. First and foremost, it appears many of the employees at SAIF were on target with their suspicions about who was involved, and when.
The files begin to form a very interesting story about the behind the scenes activities that resulted in the termination of SAIF CEO John Plotkin.
I am headed to Nashville today, where I will be the Keynote speaker at the 17th Annual Tennessee Workers' Compensation Educational Conference. Unfortunately that means I can't spend all the time I wanted to in commenting on the documents I am sharing with you today; but here goes.
The first document (available here) is an email dated April 16, 2014, sent by Plotkin to Board Chair Cathy Travis and copied to VP Chris Davie. There is nothing exciting in this email – basic recounting of certain activities that involve SAIF business and that of its Board, but the last paragraph is a curiosity for me.
In that paragraph Plotkin broaches the subject of finding replacements for both Travis and Vice Chair Van Cleave, since they have served beyond the Governors policy of “limiting board members to two terms”. It is not, as you can read, a hostile approach by any means, simply a man stating what should be obvious to anyone in the system (I was not aware of this until this email surfaced). Plotkin even asked for input from Travis on potential Board replacements.
We don't know if he ever received that feedback, as she terminated him just 3 weeks later. Hmmmmm…..
The second document available for your perusal today demonstrates quite clearly that at least two SAIF VP's were actively involved in John's termination before he even knew there was a problem. Plotkin has testified that he was not aware of any issue until May 3rd, when he received a call from Cathy Travis asking that he resign, or be fired. The day before that call, May 2, 2014, VP of Operations and Human Resources Ryan Fleming and VP of Corporate Policy and External Affairs Chris Davie exchanged several emails on the topic. The first, (all available here) from Fleming to Davie, sent at 9:47AM, appears to be suggested guidance for the Executive Council on what to tell employees about Plotkin's whereabouts over the next few days. This email appears to either have been redacted, or Fleming was having trouble typing complete sentences that day. While we do not know what is hidden from us, the last instruction is fairly clear to me.
SAIF employees were to be lied to; telling them Plotkin was out of the office “attending to some personal matters for a few days”.
The second email, sent by Fleming to Davie at 10:02AM and titled “Messages for Gilkey”, is a suggested message for John Gilkey, informing him that there is going to be a change in leadership at SAIF. Fleming indicates that “after discussion” with “board members”, “we want you to take the position as Interim CEO”. They also kindly included an incentive, advising Gilkey there "will be a salary change to this position". Davie responds with his suggested edits at 10:56AM. The edited letter states to Gilkey that “Ryan and Chris have been working with the board on the logistics of this change, and you should discuss this with them today or over the weekend, otherwise no members of EC have had any advance notice of this.”
Fleming responds at 11:18AM with a simple “Very good.”
At 12:01PM the same day, Davie sends a “Latest Communication Plan” to Fleming. It outlines recommended actions and responses based on two possible scenarios; 1) Plotkin goes willingly into that dark night, or 2) Plotkin needs to be pushed into that dark night.
Seems to me they should have considered a third scenario: Plotkin gets pushed into that dark night, the foundation quickly crumbles, employees get pissed, media gets involved, and a huge crapfest ensues, ensnaring all involved into a quagmire-like vortex of controversy.
I have a few questions at this point. Why did Fleming and Davie work directly with the board, rather than first notify Plotkin that some employees had concerns? This is a fair question, especially given the idiotic complaints involved. Secondly, why did the board not send these executive underlings back to Plotkin, and instruct them to follow process and chain of command? If Plotkin did not respond, they still had the board as an option.
Why were those two simple steps omitted?
And is it common for Corporate VP's to select Interim CEO's? And tell him what to say? Who is really running SAIF? The emails certainly make it sound like it ain't the board, and it's not the Interim CEO.
Furthermore, Fleming indicates conversations with board members took place. Did the board discuss this amongst themselves in private, non-public settings? I am not familiar with Oregon law, but their meeting minutes make an indication that this would be a problem. Here in Florida it would violate our “Sunshine laws”, and likely end up in criminal prosecution of board members who did so.
And what exactly did Chris Davie say to Brenda Rocklin in their 35 minute phone call at 12:17PM the very same day these emails were generated? (or when they spoke 4 times on the 6th, once on the 7th, again on the 8th, the 9th, two times on the 10th, well you get the picture…)
I personally think these are reasonable questions that deserve open responses from a transparent state organization.
And finally today, I present you with the grand corporate plan to manage this entire ordeal. Sent by Chris Davie to Interim CEO John Gilkey on May 12, 2014, it is a detailed recommendation on dealing with employees going forward. I will let you read it here, but will add just these few observations. This document is hysterical, given the path we now know this story is traveling.
It recounts how employees seemed to like the direction the company was headed under the man that just got canned, so the recommendation is that they emphasize how little will be changing on that front. Everything will be the same, except, er, um, for John Plotkin.
It kind of reminds me of a scene in an old “Police Squad Naked Gun” movie, where a fireworks factory explodes. With explosions and fireworks erupting in the background and people jumping from the burning building, Leslie Nielsen steps before a crowd of onlookers and yells, “There is nothing to see here! Everyone just continue on about their day!”
Plus the really good news for SAIF employees is Casual Summer may start EARLY!
Finally, my last two points about this particular document: First, I would draw your attention to the large CONFIDENTIAL watermark resting just below the “SAIF Leadership is transparent” bullet point. The irony on that is just delicious.
Second, this memo offers 3 distinct “Messages”, and numbers them 1, 3 and 3. I have no idea what happened to Number 2.
Oh wait, a minute. I think I do. It is everywhere. That is what happens when it hits the fan.
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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