OLYMPIA – Calls for the resignation of Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler continued Friday with top lawmakers speaking out against his decision to fire an employee who submitted a complaint about his treatment of staff.
Among those speaking out are Gov. Jay Inslee, Democratic and Republican leaders in the Legislature, and state Democratic party leaders.
Kreidler says he will not be stepping down.
The calls for Kreidler’s resignation came after Northwest News Network reported this week that the six-term Democrat had fired Jon Noski, a top aide who submitted a formal complaint that Kreidler had bullied him, used crass language and was “antagonizing staff.” Noski returned from medical leave on Tuesday and was fired with no explanation offered, according to Northwest News Network.
Inslee said in a statement he believed the office needs new leadership.
“The events of the last several months demonstrate he is unable to fulfill his leadership responsibility,” Inslee said in a statement. “Commissioner Kreidler assured his employees and the public he would work to improve his relationship with staff, but instead he terminated an employee who spoke out about these issues.”
Kreidler said he disagrees with Inslee’s conclusion that he cannot continue his duties as an independently elected official. He said he could not comment on the details of an individual personnel matter but that Noski was not fired because he filed a complaint against him. That “does not reflect the full context of the story,” Kreidler said.
“I take full responsibility for my past behavior and recognize the impact it has had on those around me and the people I serve. I have pledged to do better and stand by that commitment. At the same time, I intend to continue serving alongside the dedicated people of our agency and to work on the important consumer protection issues ahead.”
Northwest News Network and the Seattle Times also reported in recent months that current, former and potential employees of Kreidler, 78, claimed he verbally mistreated staff and at times used racially offensive language. Their March report found his behavior had grown worse in recent months and contributed to high turnover in his office.
“Mike has lost the trust of his employees – and his party,” Washington State Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski and Vice Chair David Green said in a joint statement.
State Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said he had serious concerns about the commissioner following the initial reports about his behavior.
“Now that he’s decided to fire the employee who had the courage to come forward in the first place, it’s become clear that the insurance commissioner did not learn from these past incidents and I believe it is time for him to step down,” Billig said.
Republican leaders in both chambers also called for his resignation. Braun said in a statement Kreidler should do the right thing and “step down immediately.”
“Firing a whistleblower is completely unacceptable, and quite frankly, the final straw,” Braun said. “We should be rewarding staff who are brave enough to speak up when they witness illegal or unethical behavior, not trying to silence and fire them.”
Wilcox wrote on Twitter that Kreidler’s “impressive career in service” will not be overshadowed by “his bad behavior towards quality staff members and clinging to office far beyond a reasonable term.”
“The Commissioner could cap his career by being a humble example of holding himself accountable,” Wilcox wrote.
Democratic Sen. Mark Mullet, who chairs the Senate Business, Financial Services and Trade Committee, said firing the employee who spoke up is “clearly grounds for removal.” He said Kreidler’s behavior is consistent with that shown with the Legislature and stakeholders in recent years.
“Commissioner Kreidler has shown he is not fit to continue in his position,” Mullet said. “The role of this agency is too important to spend the next two-and-a-half years with staff afraid to speak up when they see something wrong.”
Democratic Sens. Patty Kuderer and Karen Keiser and Rep. Jessica Bateman also showed their support for Noski on Twitter and called for Kreidler’s resignation.
This story is developing.
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