State IWIF chief leaves after a year at helm

Insurance agency president reported forced out by board

March 16, 2002|By Paul Adams | Paul Adams,SUN STAFF

The head of the state's Injured Workers Insurance Fund has been forced out at the agency, which provides workers' compensation coverage to about 23,000 Maryland companies and has assets of more than $1 billion.

Employees were told of the departure of IWIF President and Chief Executive Officer Preston D. Williams in an e-mail this week but were given no explanation. Most board members contacted yesterday declined to comment, and employees have been instructed not to talk about the matter.

However, a state lawmaker and other sources close to the situation said Williams was forced out by the board.

"My understanding is that it was a vote of `no confidence' on the part of the board," said Del. Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat and chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee. The committee oversees the IWIF.

Williams could not be reached for comment yesterday. IWIF Chairman Daniel McKew was traveling and unavailable for comment.

A press release distributed by the IWIF yesterday said that Williams "has left the organization" and that Thomas Cleary, executive vice president of corporate services, and Charles Wancowicz Jr., executive vice president of operations, will serve as interim leaders while a search for a replacement is conducted.

The departure came as a surprise to the state's top insurance official, who led a recent financial review of the agency. Among other things, the review by the Maryland Insurance Administration last fall found that IWIF's surplus had shrunk by $45 million, but that the agency was still solvent.

"I wasn't aware of any issues regarding his performance," said Steven B. Larsen, state insurance commissioner, referring to Williams.

Larsen, who had little official contact with Williams, said issues raised in the report on the agency's finances had largely been resolved.

The IWIF insures employers who are unable to obtain insurance from private companies.

A Maryland native, Williams took over in January of last year. He was not the board's first choice for the chief executive position, which pays close to $200,000 in annual salary and other benefits and is considered one of the best-paying jobs in state government.

The position was rejected by two members of the General Assembly and a former top aide to Gov. Parris N. Glendening before the board settled on Williams, who was IWIF's chief financial officer at the time. Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, a Baltimore County Democrat, was tapped for the job in September 2000, but decided to stay in the Senate, where he heads the Finance Committee.

Bromwell serves on IWIF's board of directors, but said yesterday that he was not familiar with the circumstances of Williams' departure.

"I try to do my best for this company, but this is a management issue where I don't even know if it's my business," Bromwell said. The senator, whose committee also oversees the agency, added that Williams had not contacted him after leaving IWIF.

Williams took over just as state insurance officials were beginning their financial review. The review, the agency's first, was required under a law passed by the General Assembly.

Williams was considered an industry insider with 25 years in the business prior to his appointment as chief executive. His resume included stints at St. Paul Cos. Inc., CIGNA and the National Council on Compensation Insurance.

Sun staff writer Michael Dresser contributed to this article.

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