For those of us who have been following the saga of John Plotkin and his unexpected termination from Oregon Insurer SAIF, we appear to have entered the eye of the storm – the quiet period where we anxiously wait in anticipation of whatever comes next. It is that phase beyond the initial shock and anger, beyond the outrage and protestations; it is the point where we sit and wait while the players and legal mechanisms command and determine the next direction of the story. And we are not certain when or from which direction the destructive winds will return.
No one person has the answer to this, or can confidently predict the final outcome of this story. We can speculate, however, on what the storm path will be, and how damaging it may be in the future.
Most who have followed the story know that Plotkin was accused by the Board of Directors of using inappropriate language with allusions of potential racial improprieties. It has since been learned that the accusations were based largely on inaccurate and fabricated information. Plotkin is suing for improper termination, asking for $2,000,000 in damages and to be restored to his position as CEO. If the hundreds and hundreds of comments on my blog are to be believed, there are many at SAIF that would like to see him back.
Even those that don't, still wish to see his reputation restored and have their employer do right by him.
There are a couple recent key developments that could serve to bring this chapter to a fairly quick end. I've already written about the activity of two of the new board members appointed by Governor Kitzhaber. Jeff Stone and Jennifer Ulum have made unprecedented efforts to reach out and communicate with the SAIF rank and file, and that bodes well for better decision making by that body in the future. The SAIF five member BOD now consists of 3 new members, with only 2 remaining from the previous board that fired John Plotkin. If they are smart, and are paying attention, that 3 member majority that could make direct moves to put this episode behind them.
The other development involves the Governor himself. This is of course just wild speculation on my part, but now that the Governor has secured his re-election as of November 4th, there may be greater flexibility to admitting an error and making this problem go away. Prior to Election Day, Governor Kitzhaber was seemingly awash in potential scandal – some of it not even of his own making. The state's health care exchange was under federal investigation for fraudulent use of hundreds of millions of dollars, and his fiancé was revealed to have a plethora of issues, including the revelations that she married an Ethiopian man in an illegal “green card” wedding in the 1990's and that she tried to establish an illegal pot farm in Washington State. The man simply didn't need another state agency scandal nipping at his heels. A pre-election admission of wrongdoing would have provided just that scenario.
Lord, it's no wonder the state just legalized marijuana. Much easier to get stoned and forget the whole thing.
Anyway, now that the Gub has eked out a 49% win for what is probably his last term in office, he may be much more free to clear the board of previous egregious sins (his office, after all, signed off on the Plotkin termination, as sloppy a mess as it was). His office could signal to the Oregon DOJ that it is in the best interest of all to settle with Plotkin and allow the agency to move on.
I personally believe that we will see movement on that front, sooner rather than later. It is in the best interest of the state, the agency and Plotkin himself for them to acknowledge their error, settle the case, and let everyone move on. I would not expect Plotkin to return to the agency at this point, but do not believe that it would be a bad thing if he did.
A settlement is only half of the needed resolution, by the way. There still exists internal issues and tremendous discontent at SAIF that must be addressed. There has never been an independent investigation of what occurred, and key players remain that probably should no longer be there, if documents released by the agency are to be believed. The agency will never regain the trust of its employees, nor be able to secure a visionary CEO without addressing these internal affairs.
All of this could be addressed while in the calm of the tempest, when the waters are still despite strong undercurrents.
That is the funny thing about the eye of a storm. The calm is deceiving, and lulls people into a complacency that should not exist. When the winds suddenly return with an unexpected force and your guard is down, that is when the true damage can be inflicted.
Meanwhile, the new board has their first official meeting on November 19th. The agenda has not yet been released, but they would be smart to keep an eye on the weather. Wise people would work to negate the storm now, before the winds, driven by prolonged legal action, return.
For a list of Bob’s other SAIF/Plotkin articles (as well as a couple old AASCIF articles that get picked up in the search), Click here.