Pinnacol Board Nominees Criticize Travel

Board Nominee Defends Calling Pinnacol CEO "Idiot, Guido" On His Blog

Three new appointees to the embattled Pinnacol Assurance Board of Directors passed a state Senate committee, with all three vowing not take lavish trips that brought criticism on three board members who were part of a $318,000 golf trip last year.

Nominees businessman Blair Richardson and attorney John Plotkin passed unanimously while Senate Majority staffer John Cevette passed 5-1 with Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, voting against Cevette's nomination.

Mitchell said Cevette has too much conflict working in the legislature and serving as a governor’s appointment on the Pinnacol board. During the hearing, he also questioned controversial blogging Cevette did on Pinnacol and whether he qualifies as an employee covered by the worker's compensation insurer.

During the committee confirmation, legislators asked the three nominees whether they would accept travel similar to the Pebble Beach golf trip exposed by CALL7 Investigators in May.

“I’m doing this for a dollar a year, and I am doing this for community service,” Richardson said. “I would not be in favor at all of those kinds of trips, and I would not participate.”

Plotkin joked about his golf game but also confirmed that the trip was inappropriate.

“Other than the fact that my golf game is non-existant, I would not be looking for a trip like that either,” he said. “I don't consider that to be appropriate.”

CALL7 Investigators fought in court for records from the trip, finding Pinnacol spent $318,000 for the golf trip that included $20,000 in liquor and one dinner that cost more than $19,000. Pinnacol is a quasi-state agency that is the worker’s compensation insurer of last resort. There was $38,000 in golf fees and spa visits for the trip.

Board President Gary Johnson and member Ryan Hettich along with ethics chair Debra Lovejoy, who did not reapply for the position at the end of last year, went on the trip. Richardson was appointed by Gov. Bill Ritter, in his final day in office, to replace Lovejoy.

Cevette, who is the most controversial nominee because of comments he made on his blog after the trip was exposed, said he is there to provide oversight and it would be conflict to accept lavish travel.

“It is unexcusable. It is poor judgment,” Cevette told CALL7 Investigator Tony Kovaleski in an interview before the hearing. “It is not the way that funds should be spent, and I would oppose any type of travel that would be extravagant and unnecessary as that travel was.”

Cevette blogged after 7News exposed the trip that Pinnacol Chief Executive Officer Ken Ross was an “idiot” with “an unstoppable mouth powered by unthinkable arrogance.

“Coupled with a penchant to act like a Guido on a New York street corner, he is more a composite of a thug than the CEO of a state workers’ compensation agency,” Cevette wrote.

Cevette did not back down from those statements Wednesday.

“In a blog after that trip to Pebble Beach, you called Ken Ross a ‘Guido.’ What did you mean?” Kovaleski asked.

“When you have a corporate executive who attacks a reporter and has to be restrained, that's a good description of someone who's acting like a Guido,” Cevette said.

“Do you regret saying that?” Kovaleski asked.

“No, I don't,” Cevette said. “I am Italian American. I'm very sensitive to my culture. I'm very sensitive to the slights. I didn't do that as a slight. I did as a description. I was very angry at when I wrote that blog, and I'm still very angry.”

Cevette said he expects to have a civil relationship with Ross, but they will not be golfing buddies.

“It’s inappropriate for board members to travel with management, because you cannot be both a friend and an overseer at the same time,” he said. “Those are distinct functions.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper, who nominated Cevette and Plotkin, said he hopes the new board members will change the culture of Pinnacol.

“You have a number of voices on the board,” Hickenlooper said. “We tried to put several people in there. We tried to create a much greater level of accountability there and make sure Coloradoans can be proud of Pinnacol.

“It's a good first step to make sure this kind of poor judgment isn't replicated,” Hickenlooper said. “I think we were sending a message to the whole enterprise that we're going to expect a high level of accountability, and we'll be paying a lot of attention.”

But Richardson seemed to dismiss the Pebble Beach controversy.

“We have to have all this press and Pebble Beach just go away,” Richardson told the committee. “The legislature has more important issues to deal with.”

The nominees also said they would take a closer look at the large salaries and bonuses that the Pinnacol board previously approved for Ross and other top executives.

The full Senate must now confirm the nominees before they join the other six appointees of previous governors on the Pinnacol Board.

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