Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Part II: My Days at the Department of Insurance; The Present Left By Governor Kernan and How Governor Daniels' Office Let Down This Republican

In 2007, I was notified that an attorney for a title company was threatening to sue the State of Indiana because of defamatory information published on the enforcement website maintained by Shirley. When I looked closely at the claim, I found that the attorney was indeed correct that the website contained misleading and false information regarding enforcement actions taken by the Department against licensees, and that we were definitely exposed from a legal standpoint. In short, in addition, to numerous inaccurate entries, the website identified as the “Violation” what the licensee was originally charged with, not what the licensee was later determined to have done. It’s akin to publicly stating someone committed the crime of murder when they were in fact convicted of battery.

I notified Commissioner Atterholt of the problem with the website. He was in total agreement that it needed to be changed immediately and that it exposed the State to considerable liability. We reviewed the Attorney General’s website which merely links to public documents rather than provide editorial comment was a far better model. When Shirley objected to any change in the IDOI’s website, Atterholt immediately backed down.

The greatest mystery at the Department was why Atterholt would not do anything to address the problems with Shirley and the unit she manages. People complained daily about Shirley and many went to Atterholt begging that he do something. Atterholt always acknowledged the complaints and would admit to everyone that Shirley is incompetent and a terrible manager. He admitted to me that Shirley’s unit by far has the lowest morale of any unit in the office. Those of us in her unit, saw Shirley go through wild mood swings, periods of depression, a difficulty focusing on tasks and remembering things from one day to the next. We would have meetings where she would spend the entire time talking about margins on documents or what male-female duo my co-manager and I most resembled. Throughout it all, Atterholt acknowledged Shirley’s problems, suggested that she would get better, and encouraged us to simply work around her, going to him directly on issues.

Near the end of my tenure, I complained to Atterholt that Shirley was berating a DOI employee for failing asleep and threatening to discipline him. The employee had a very serious and life- threatening health condition and was under heavy medication. I explained to the Commissioner that, pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act, we needed to make accommodations for employee’s with health issues and that we all would do that by simply waking him up if we saw that he dozed off. Atterholt agreed, but suggested that was simply how Shirley operated. She would unfairly target one employee for awhile, tire of it, and then move on to another employee in her unit.

I believe though the Commissioner though owed a higher duty to stand up for the welfare of the employees of Shirley’s unit. So my last Friday at the Department I went to State Personnel, and invited them to come over to the Department of Insurance to review the violation of state personnel rules by Shirley and to interview employees of Shirley’s unit to determine whether she had created a hostile work environment. They agreed to do so the next time Shirley was out of town. When I got back to my office, per their request, I emailed them with the dates of her next trip. That weekend I wrote the memo that would cost me my job.

That fateful memo outlined the violations of state personnel rules, the legal violations, and the suspected hostile work environment in Shirley’s unit. I believed, and still believe, I had a moral responsibility to protect the people I had recruited to work in the Title Insurance Division. I asked that the Commissioner to move my Division out of Shirley’s unit. Changes in organization happen all the time at the Department. But this requested change would have also resulted in Shirley no longer having her hands on the title insurance dedicated fund, which by now had accumulated nearly a million dollars. That is precisely why I believe the simple organization change was not supported by Shirley even though she had been repeatedly complaining to the Commissioner about having too many divisions to supervise. My division, unlike most of the others, came with money.

Link to Part I
Link to Part III

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