More than a dozen Democratic state legislators have signed a letter asking for the dismissal of North Dakota’s workers’ compensation director. The director, Sandy Blunt, said he will not resign, and the agency’s chairman said its board of directors supports him.
A recent state audit of the Workforce Safety and Insurance agency concluded it was beset by morale problems, and that many of its employees feared retaliation or dismissal if they spoke out about their difficulties on the job.
In their letter, which was dated Monday, the lawmakers said they wanted the “immediate resignation” of Blunt, who has been the chief executive officer of Workforce Safety and Insurance since April 2004.
Blunt said Monday he would not resign, and that the board had not asked him to quit. The agency’s directors voted Blunt a pay raise last month.
“We just want to get back on task, we want to get back on focus,” Blunt said. “We just want this political grandstanding to move on. That’s not helping anybody.”
The letter was drafted by state Sen. Joel Heitkamp, D-Hankinson, and addressed to Robert Indvik, who is chairman of the agency’s board of directors.
As of late Monday afternoon, 14 Democratic lawmakers had signed it, including Heitkamp and Sen. David O’Connell, D-Lansford, the Senate’s Democratic leader. Heitkamp said he would ask Republican legislators to sign it as well.
“As you should be well aware, and as the recent independent audits of the agency have well documented, the agency has been in a state of turmoil for some time,” the letter says. “Mr. Blunt has further exacerbated the problems … by refusing to accept responsibility for his inadequacies as a manager, and his poor judgment.”
State lawmakers are in Bismarck this week for the organizational session of the 2007 Legislature.
The WSI board alone has the power to hire and fire the agency’s director. The 1997 Legislature stripped then-Gov. Ed Schafer of the authority to appoint the workers compensation director, in a move that supporters said would help insulate the agency from politics.
Indvik said the board had no plans to follow the Democrats’ advice, and said the appeal for Blunt’s dismissal illustrated the wisdom of the 1997 change.
“This is exactly the reason why the board of directors was created in the first place,” Indvik said. “The workers’ comp was removed from the governor’s office to remove some of the politics from operating the organization.”
The current structure allows the board “to determine what process and procedures should be implemented, without fear of political backlash,” Indvik said.
Heitkamp, during a meeting of Senate Democrats, said he would introduce legislation to put Workforce Safety and Insurance back under the governor’s control.
Blunt said he and agency managers will address agency operating problems that the audit spotlighted.
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