Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler is in hot water with the state’s political leaders — including Governor Jay Inslee — for firing a top aide turned whistleblower. He is legislative liaison, Jon Noski.
Over the last several months, Noski has accused Kreidler of “antagonizing” staff and verbally mistreating them. That “mistreating,” Noski said, includes racially offensive language.
The Office of the Insurance Commissioner (OIC) issued an explanation as to why Noski was terminated. The OIC said the reason is complex.
“The decision to end (Noski’s) appointment was made following ongoing discussions with Jon about his role in the office as the agency moves forward. Jon has been a valued member of our legislative and policy team and everyone wishes him well in his future endeavors,” the statement said.
Noski has taken a different view of his termination and has now employed an attorney to seek legal action over that termination. He feels his public complaints against the commissioner’s actions toward staff are justified and have been worth the effort.
As to the termination itself, “I’m not surprised, I’m disappointed,” Noski said. “I liked my job, and I liked the people I worked with and I am going to miss being able to work for the OIC.”
Noski’s first complaint about Kreidler came after a hearing on credit scoring in February of this year. His statement said the commissioner sharply — and needlessly — criticizes the work of his staff, and his work in particular.
“The commissioner said that I am an impotent embarrassment who might need to be replaced because of my incompetence,” Noski wrote in his complaint. “The commissioner said I must enjoy getting pissed on and asked if he needed to wipe my ass.”
That statement got the attention of leaders in the Legislature. However, until Kreidler fired Noski, they remained relatively silent. Now Kreidler’s decision to terminate the whistleblowing, Noski has drawn out leaders in both political parties.
Governor Inslee says the commissioner has demonstrated that he is no longer fit to lead the department he has led for 22-years.
“Commissioner Kreidler assured his employees and the public he would work to improve his relationship with staff, but instead he terminated an employee who spoke out about these issues,” the governor said. “All staff deserve respect regardless of their at-will status. Therefore it’s my belief we need different leadership in this position and I believe he should resign.”
At the time this story is being written, Monday, June 20th, the commissioner has not resigned. In his response to Inslee’s demand, Kreidler said he will not resign and will stay in office.
“Gov. Inslee and I have worked and served together for many years and I generally respect both his perspective and his efforts to further the causes we both care about,” Kreidler said in a statement on the OIC website. “However, I disagree with his conclusion regarding my ability to continue my duties as an independently elected official.”
The first to call for Kreidler’s resignation were Washington State Senators, Democrat Mark Mullet and Republican, Perry Dozier. Mullet is the chair and Dozier is the ranking Republican on the Senate Business, Financial Services and Trade Committee. It has oversight of the insurance industry.
“Commissioner Kreidler has shown he is not fit to continue in his position,” Mullet said in his statement. “The role of this agency is too important to spend the next two-and-a-half years with staff afraid to speak up when they see something wrong.”
Dozier echoed his comment. “I agree with my colleagues and leaders in both parties, enough is enough. It is time for Kreidler to go so that someone who can effectively and ethically do the critical work of this office can step in.”
Their statements got the governor and others in the Washington Legislature to respond. Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig on Thursday said the initial reports of Kreidler’s behavior had him concerned.
“I had serious concerns regarding the Insurance Commissioner following the initial troubling reports of his behavior toward OIC employees,” he said. “Now that he’s decided to fire the employee who had the courage to come forward in the first place, it’s become clear that the Insurance Commissioner did not learn from these past incidents and I believe it is time for him to step down.”
Senate Republican Leader John Braun echoed that comment. He found the initial reports concerning, too. “But firing a whistleblower is completely unacceptable, and quite frankly, the final straw,” Braun said.
The 76 year old Kreidler is a six-term Democrat. His termination of Noski has also gotten the ire of his party’s leaders. Washington State Democrats chair and vice chair, Tina Podlodowski and David Green said Kreidler can no longer “faithfully serve the people of Washington State” and should step down.
“To fire a whistleblower — someone who had the courage to step forward in the first place — is not only unacceptable and unethical, but directly goes against the Democratic values of our party,” they said in a statement.
Former staff members and current staff members have also spoken up. One is Steve Valandra who was the OIC deputy commissioner for public affairs. Valandra retired late last year and worked with Noski whose work ethic he praised.
“Honestly, I think the wrong person is leaving the agency,” Valandra said.
One current employee did not want to be identified. That person described Kreidler’s behavior as volatile. “I’m talking about meanness, deliberately cutting people down publicly to humiliate them, not letting bygones be bygones,” the person said.
As Kreidler has done in the past, he did acknowledge some staff management issues. “I take full responsibility for my past behavior and recognize the impact it has had on those around me and the people I serve,” he said. “I have pledged to do better and stand by that commitment. At the same time, I intend to continue serving alongside the dedicated people of our agency and to work on the important consumer protection issues ahead.”
As to the termination of Noski, Kreidler said he cannot comment on his actions.
“I cannot comment on the details of an individual personnel matter but the conclusion that an important and valued employee’s departure was because he filed a complaint against me is not true and does not reflect the full context of the story,” he wrote.
Last year, and earlier this year, Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler pushed to end the practice of credit scoring to set insurance rates. After hundreds of complaints from consumers, insurance agents, agencies and companies, the two decisions ended with insurance associations — including PIA Washington — taking the commissioner to court.
The first court action concluded with a judge ordering Kreidler to withdraw his unilateral order to ban the practice. The second lawsuit is still in process.
Source link: NW News Network — https://bit.ly/3y8oe2g
Source link: Associated Press — https://bit.ly/3QyLdLc
Source link: OPB — https://bit.ly/3OfmHgA
Source link: Washington Department of Insurance — https://bit.ly/3O4TLrz
Source link: Kitsap Sun — https://bit.ly/3NavizG
Source link: Insurance Journal — https://bit.ly/3NbV2vH
Washington Commissioner Kreidler Under Fire — Calls to Resign Growing
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