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9 candidates on list for WSI interim director

BISMARCK - North Dakotans being mentioned as possible interim director of Workforce Safety and Insurance include the former state official who in 2002 forced reformation of the state's largest domestic property and casualty insurance firm, and on...

BISMARCK - North Dakotans being mentioned as possible interim director of Workforce Safety and Insurance include the former state official who in 2002 forced reformation of the state's largest domestic property and casualty insurance firm, and one of the men he forced out of the company.

The WSI search committee discussed nine possible candidates Monday. It hopes to narrow the list to six semifinalists by Friday and interview them March 18. The appointee would be paid in the same range as former CEO Sandy Blunt, or about $166,000.

Former state Insurance Commissioner Jim Poolman said he would "relish the challenge" of being a short-term CEO at the state's troubled workers' compensation agency but thinks the probability is "remote" that the position could be structured to fit his availability.

He said residual turmoil at WSI is "very, very similar, from an organizational perspective" to the situation at Nodak Mutual Insurance Co.'s Fargo headquarters in 2002. Poolman's department took over management of Nodak because of what he termed a "civil war" in the management.

Among the people ousted during the Nodak shake-up was Paul Traynor, who was senior vice president, secretary and general counsel. Traynor, of Devils Lake, is also among the nine people the WSI committee may consider for interim CEO.

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The other seven people who have been suggested or who have expressed interest include:

- Rep. Ron Carlisle, R-Bismarck, who is not seeking re-election this year. He served as a commissioner of the Workers Compensation Bureau from 1983-85, when it was run by a three-member commission. Carlisle said Monday that he'll decide in a couple of days whether to pursue appointment.

- John Dorso, a former House majority leader and Fargo trucking business owner who is now retired in Florida. He was unavailable for comment Monday.

- Former Fargo Mayor Bruce Furness. He is now on the staff of State Bank and Trust in Fargo and is a retired IBM executive. He told Forum Communications last Thursday that he has an interest in the interim position.

- Dean Haas, an assistant attorney general was at one time staff lawyer for the bureau and then represented claimants while in private practice. He could not be reached for comment Monday.

- Heidi Heitkamp of Mandan, former state attorney general, former state tax commissioner and candidate for governor in 2000. She could not be reached for comment Monday.

- Pat Traynor of Dakota Medical Foundation, Fargo, and executive director of the bureau from 1994-2000. He helmed the bureau during the time it recovered from having a $240 million unfunded liability. He could not be reached for comment Monday.

- John Vastag, president of Laney's Inc., a Fargo heating equipment contractor. He could not be reached for comment through his business number and doesn't have a home phone listing.

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Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. She can be reached at (701) 224-0830 or forumcap@btinet.net

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