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Published: Wednesday, 7/11/2007

Strickland gets nominees for BWC

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - Forty-three names are headed for the governor's desk for 11 seats on a revamped, stronger panel to lead the troubled Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation.

Although the names were submitted yesterday by the same nominating committee that recommended current members of the weaker oversight commission that critics charge failed injured workers and employers, Gov. Ted Strickland's office has insisted it won't be business as usual.

"It's going to be very different," said Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, who presided over the nomination process.

"This board, while appointed by the governor, is an independent board. It has very clear delineated duties and responsibilities," he said. "I don't think there's any question that the qualifications of those people who we recommended to the governor are the kinds of people that this board demands in this new era of transparency and accountability."

A law signed by Mr. Strickland last month is ousting the current oversight commission, which critics argued stood on the sidelines as $50 million in bureau funds was invested in rare-coin funds operated by the now-jailed Republican fund-raiser Tom Noe and $215 million was lost in an offshore hedge fund.

The board is being replaced with a more hands-on board of directors.

The new board will count among its 11 members two investment experts, a certified public accountant, and an actuary. The rest will be made up of three seats representing employers, three representing employees and organized labor, and a member of the general public.

The nominating commission consisting of representatives of labor, business, local governments, and injured workers sent Mr. Strickland four recommendations for each seat out of a total of 112 applications received. One name appears twice. The governor has 14 days to make his selections or ask the nominating council to send him more.

Just two candidates from northwest Ohio have survived to this stage. Kurt M. Young, a Toledo workers' compensation attorney, is seeking the seat representing employees, and Alison L. Falls, a securities analyst and portfolio strategist from Port Clinton, is among the finalists for one of the two investment expert seats.

Some sense of entitlement was still evident among some at the table making recommendations yesterday. Cincinnati attorney Jerald Harris told the committee that the Ohio Academy of Trial Lawyers feels the seat representing employees has historically belonged to it.

"We feel there is no conflict," he said. "If there is a conflict of interest, it would apply to every seat on this board."

But Eric Burkland, president of the Ohio Manufacturers Association, countered that such a stakeholder approach - the current oversight commission - has failed. "This model, we believe, is more of a corporate model, an expertise board, than a stakeholder board," he said.

"It's a migration away from the expectation that certain people have rights to certain seats because they are stakeholders in the system."

The Ohio Ethics Commission has been asked to issue an advisory opinion later this month as to whether those representing organizations doing business with the bureau would have a conflict of interest in serving on the board.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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