More Problems at Oklahoma Workers’ Comp Commission

By | August 4, 2014

Members of a new state agency charged with overseeing Oklahoma’s system for compensating injured workers may have to vote again on several issues because of possible violations of a law requiring certain state meetings to be held in public, an attorney general’s office spokesman said.

Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office has fired an attorney assigned to the Workers’ Compensation Commission and is reviewing previous actions by the three-member panel to determine if any other remedial action needs to be taken, said Pruitt spokesman Aaron Cooper.

“Our office is reviewing the agendas, the meeting records, to take a look at that,” Cooper said. “We’ll share that information with the commission and take any action that may be necessary.”

The commission had scheduled a special meeting last week to discuss, among other things, an “openness and transparency action plan,” but that meeting has been rescheduled for 9 a.m. on Aug. 6.

Cooper said some advice given to the panel by Assistant Attorney General Ted Rossier was incorrect, specifically as it relates to the Open Meeting Act, and that Rossier no longer works for the attorney general’s office. He declined to elaborate.

Rossier, who had been assigned to the commission, confirmed he was fired, but he declined to discuss the matter further.

“I don’t really have anything to say at this time,” Rossier said. “I’m exploring what I’m going to do next and I’m weighing different options.”

The three-member commission includes appointees of Gov. Mary Fallin, confirmed by the Oklahoma Senate. The panel was created as part of the Legislature’s plan to shift Oklahoma’s Workers’ Compensation Court to an administrative system. GOP lawmakers argued the judicial system was too adversarial, costly for businesses and a drag on the state’s economy.

Fallin, a strong supporter of the switch, said in a statement the transition has involved “growing pains.”

“The new system, which has only been in operation less than six months, calls for a complete re-imagination of how we process workers’ comp claims,” Fallin said. “It is normal for a change like this to come with challenges.”

Sixteen employees of the Workers’ Compensation Court were fired in July as part of a reduction in force. Several of them have sued the agency, alleging their terminations are null and void because, among other reasons, they were approved in an executive session that violated the Open Meeting Act.

The commission’s executive director, Rick Farmer, said in an email to The Associated Press that the employees were fired as a result of the state-appropriated budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.

Farmer declined to discuss specific votes the commission may have taken that were improper, saying he has not yet seen the report being prepared by the attorney general’s office.

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