Ex-patrol chief to head WSI

BISMARCK -- A former Highway Patrol commander is the new head of Workforce Safety and Insurance and a former agriculture official is deputy director.

BISMARCK -- A former Highway Patrol commander is the new head of Workforce Safety and Insurance and a former agriculture official is deputy director.

Gov. John Hoeven named Bryan Klipfel and Clare Carlson to the top spots at the state workers' compensation agency Friday. Carlson will also be public affairs officer.

Klipfel is the first permanent director at WSI since Charles "Sandy" Blunt was forced out in December 2007 and the first gubernatorial appointee since the mid-1990s, when the Legislature put the agency in the hands of an independent board.

Voters in November returned WSI to the governor's control.

A business group leader and some legislators praised Klipfel's selection Friday. The head of the state's unions took a wait-and-see stance.


Neither Klipfel nor Carlson has experience in workers' compensation or insurance. Hoeven said he chose them for leadership skills.

Klipfel "has tremendous leadership qualities" that were proven when he led a major state agency, Hoeven said. "I think there's significant insurance knowledge (among others) at the agency."

Klipfel, 55, will start work March 16, in a transition period with the interim director, former Fargo mayor Bruce Furness, who has been in charge the past year.

Klipfel served in the Highway Patrol for 30 years, including as commander from 2003 to 2007, when he retired to become human resources manager for Job Service North Dakota. He has a degree in public administration.

Carlson, 52, won't begin at WSI until May 1, when the Legislature concludes. He's currently an aide to Hoeven and legislators concerning federal stimulus money coming to the state. WSI has not previously had a deputy director.

Carlson spent the last eight years as the U.S. Department of Agriculture's rural development director for North Dakota. Before that he was ag policy adviser to Hoeven and Gov. Ed Schafer and once ran for agriculture commissioner.

Klipfel said that he thought long and hard about assenting to Hoeven's request that he head WSI.

"We'll make sure we work hard to have good communications," he said.


Carlson also has a bit of personal worker's compensation experience because his father lost a hand in a farming accident 30 years ago in Minnesota.

The head of the North Dakota Motor Carriers Association, Thomas Balzer, who has tracked WSI issues and attended virtually all its board meetings for several years, lauded Klipfel's appointment.

Truckers also work closely with the Highway Patrol's truck regulatory division.

"I've worked with Bryan for over seven years and he's a great administrator and I think a great pick for that agency," Balzer said.

Klipfel is "a very level-headed guy" who handles problems with a fair and studied style, Balzer said.

Sen. Jerry Klein, R-Fessenden, chairman of the Senate Industry, Business and Labor Committee, which handles WSI legislation, and the Senate's assistant majority leader, Sen. Randy Christmann, praised the appointment, too.

"At this point, I think it's about leadership up there," Klein said.

Christmann was impressed with what he saw in Klipfel's performance during the several sessions he brought the Highway Patrol's budget to the Senate Appropriations Committee on which Christmann serves.


Less impressed was House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, who told the Associated Press it's a mistake for Hoeven to choose someone with no experience in insurance or workers compensation issues.

Sen. Tracy Potter, D-Bismarck, also on the Senate Industry, Business and Labor Committee, said that while he doesn't know Klipfel well, he very much likes Carlson.

And, considering ex-director Blunt's recent conviction for mishandling WSI funds, Potter said, the appointments are "a good move from a standpoint of public perception. ... There's a new sheriff in town."

North Dakota AFL-CIO President David Kemnitz, who attended Friday's announcement, said he'll reserve judgment on the new WSI managers.

"Are the injured workers better off? That's for them to prove," he said.

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