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Janell Cole, Published March 07 2009

Hoeven names new WSI 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.

Neither Klipfel nor Carlson has experience in workers’ compensation or insurance. Hoeven said he chose them for their 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 for 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 is now 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 past 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.

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

Truckers 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.

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

“At this point, I think it’s about leadership up there,” Klein said.

Christmann, R-Hazen, 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.

North Dakota AFL-CIO President David Kemnitz, who attended Friday’s announcement, said he’ll reserve judgment.

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