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Patrick Springer, Published December 03 2009

Blues board elections under review

Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota is taking a fresh look at the process for electing board members after about 200 subscribers questioned the procedures.

Two candidates are vying for an open consumer representative position on the board and three incumbents are unopposed in an annual board election to be held Friday in Fargo.

Only credentialed members will be permitted to attend and cast ballots at the election meeting, which is being held at 9 a.m. at the Fargo Holiday Inn to accommodate the possibility of a heavy turnout.

Mailings were sent to 141,268 eligible voting members in late October. Normally, between 8 and 10 percent return proxy votes by mailing in paper ballots or voting online, company spokeswoman Denise Kolpack said Wednesday.

Typically, however, only a small number show up for the annual election meeting, between five and 10, Kolpack said. Anyone without credentials will be turned away, as specified in corporate bylaws, she said.

“If we did have higher attendance, we wanted to be able to accommodate any turnout,” she said. Board members are paid $30,000 a year and are asked to commit to 18 to 20 days of meetings per year.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota has been the focus of heightened public scrutiny in the aftermath of a highly publicized reward trip to the Grand Cayman Islands and an audit of administrative expenses.

Some members have called or written to ask questions about the election process for board members, including the fact that incumbents run unopposed, Kolpack said.

“We’ve heard from probably a couple hundred members,” she said. As a result, Paul von Ebers, the Blues’ new chief executive, asked the board to review the process for nominating and electing directors.

A six-member committee of the board of directors invites nominations for open board seats, screens applicants and interviews finalists, selecting two names to be placed on the ballot.

For the current consumer representative, about 60 nominations were received, and the committee identified six candidates for interviews, board Chairman Dennis Elbert of Grand Forks said.

“If there’s a way of improving that process, we’re open to that,” Elbert said. “We’re trying to look at all ideas and concepts,” including those that have been identified by the industry as “best practices.”

The two vying for the consumer opening are Lynn Paulson of Grafton, chief executive of Choice Financial Group, and Bradley Williams, president of Goldmark Property Management of Fargo.

Elbert is one of three board members running unopposed for another three-year term. So are Dr. Julie Blehm, a Fargo MeritCare physician and provider representative, and Laura Carley, special projects coordinator at Industrial Builders in West Fargo.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522