A new face takes over injured workers fund

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins The Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Gov. Ted Strickland yesterday named a power company executive to head up the state’s $15 billion fund for injured workers, an agency still recovering from a scandal over investment losses.

Marsha Ryan, vice president for customer operations at Columbus-based American Electric Power, will oversee the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, Strickland said in a release.

The selection was highly anticipated because of the bureau’s recent troubled past, including the investment scandal followed by elections that swept Republicans out of power in Ohio after a decade and ushered in several Democrats, including Strickland.

“With her professionalism and years of experience, I believe that Marsha will carry out the bureau’s important obligations efficiently and effectively,” Strickland said.

Ryan, 56, joined AEP in 1990. In 2004, she was named president and chief operating officer of Indiana Michigan Power, an AEP subsidiary. She became customer operations vice president last year.

Ryan previously worked for the Ohio Office of Consumers’ Counsel, which advocates on behalf of residential utility customers, and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

Since 2002, Ryan has also served as a director of State Auto Mutual Insurance. She served on the advisory board for US Bank in central Ohio from 1998 through 2004.

Ryan starts May 1. She will earn $196,019, an 11 percent increase from the $177,366 earned by former administrator William Mabe.

The appointment comes as Strickland is pushing to revamp the way the workers’ comp agency is run. Strickland wants to create an independent board of financial experts to manage the fund, which was marred by a scandal costing the state $300 million in lost investments.

What began as revelations over the bureau’s unorthodox $50 million investment in rare coins mushroomed into a far-reaching probe of influence peddling at the agency that reached all the way to the governor’s office.

Former Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican, pleaded no contest to ethics violations in 2005, one of 15 people charged in the scandal.

Strickland’s proposal takes power away from the bureau’s administrator and puts all investment decisions into the hands of an 11-member voting board.

The board would consist of financial experts – including an accountant, an actuary and experts in investments and securities – and labor and business leaders selected by the governor. It would replace the current seven-member oversight board, which includes appointments by the governor, the state treasurer and lawmakers.

A Republican lawmaker who serves on the current board as a nonvoting member criticized Ryan’s selection, saying she lacks the experience in the insurance industry needed to head the agency.

The bureau amounts to one of the country’s biggest providers of insurance and manages more policies than Ohio’s top five private insurance companies combined, said Senate Insurance Chairman Steve Stivers.

“While I understand the Governor’s desire to put his own mark on the BWC, selecting someone who does not have the same level of experience and knowledge is a step back,” Stivers said.