James B. Hunt Jr., Governor
Buck Lattimore, Chairman

Bernadine S. Ballance, Commissioner
Thomas J. Bolch, Commissioner
Laura K. Mavretic, Commissioner
Renée C. Riggsbee, Commissioner
Christopher Scott, Commissioner
Dianne C. Sellers, Commissioner

North Carolina
Industrial Commission


TO:  Oath of Office Ceremony
Old House of Representatives Chamber
State Capitol
FROM: Buck Lattimore
Chairman, N.C. Industrial Commission
DATE: September 6, 2000
SUBJECT: Remarks

I am excited, honored and humbled to be standing before you today.

I appreciate the confidence Governor Hunt has placed in me in naming me Chairman of the Industrial Commission. I fully realize the great responsibility he has given me. The Governor asked for and fully expects enormous results. To the best of my ability and with God’s help, those results will be realized so the workers and employers of our state will benefit.

I want to thank my wife Jerrie for her understanding and for her rich sense of humor that always keeps me smiling –or at least wondering—in good times and bad. I’m so proud of her in her role as the state regulator of Credit Unions and as the incoming President of the National Association of State Credit Union Supervisors.

There are so many people here today--family, friends, former co-workers and business associates-- who have made a real difference in my life. To all of them I say a heart-felt "thank you."

Two special people in my life are not here today—my mother and father. I know how proud they would both be. I was blessed to have parents who believed that public service and helping people were high callings in life. They encouraged me always. My Dad took me from an early age to community, farming and political meetings. He believed that you had to get involved. I chose this House Chamber for a special reason—in 1929, seventy-one years ago, (also the same year this chamber enacted this state’s first workers’ compensation law) my mother sat in one of these seats to take the state nurses’ licensing exam. She was so proud to be a Registered Nurse and until her last day at age 96, she believed that helping others was "what it’s all about." I share that belief.

I want to thank the Commissioners and employees of the Industrial Commission for their loyalty and support during my six years as administrator. I especially want to thank Kay Emanuel, my assistant, for her loyalty over the twenty-four years we have worked together. She has made a real difference for our agency and in keeping me "on target." And she will continue to be valuable to our agency in her expanded role as Office Manager. Much has been accomplished since I first walked into the Industrial Commission in l994. Much more remains to be done.

My goal is to bring new direction to the Industrial Commission. There will be change and new approaches to old problems. I will be guided by the simple principle:

To get the results you’ve never had,
You must do some things you’ve never done.

The Governor specifically asked that "cases be decided more promptly" so everyone is treated fairly and gets quick decisions. I intend to return the Industrial Commission to its original mission: swift and fair disposition of claims and contested cases.

My vision for the Industrial Commission includes:

  1. Promoting a strong work ethic,
  2. Improving efficiency in every section, and
  3. Creating a customer service orientation that provides employers and employees quality professional help.

Many of you may not know my background. Let me share with you a little about myself so you’ll know what philosophies I bring to this job.

I come from a farm family. I have driven a John Deere tractor and worked in the fields. I know the importance of hard work.

When farming declined, I worked summers and after school in restaurants. I mopped floors, cleaned restrooms and emptied garbage cans as well as ran the cash register. I know what hourly labor is all about…and I know that in this state a "man’s work is his soul" and a man’s soul is priceless.

I come from a business background. I was blessed to work for several multi-state corporations and later own and operate my own businesses. I know what it means to meet a payroll and live within a budget. I know the importance of productivity, customer service and successfully managing employees. I know what a "bottom line" is and I know that that bottom line is impacted by how you treat your employees.

I have worn the uniform of my country. I know what teamwork and accomplishing a mission are all about.

I come from Government. I know how the process works and I know how to work with others to get things done.

And from all the experiences of my life, I know the importance of making decisions—hard decisions. And I will make the hard decisions to get the Industrial Commission to where it should be.

I also know that there is no such thing as a "self-made man." Any success in life is a result of people around you helping to lift you up. Success results from listening and learning from others. And I intend to listen and learn from fellow employees at the commission, attorneys from both sides that appear before our agency, employers and business leaders, and workers across our state.

To each of you I say: I need your input, suggestions and advice. Together, we can accomplish much. At odds, we all suffer.

I have begun to implement a plan to speed the work of the Commission. This plan has specific and measurable performance standards so every employee will know specifically what is expected. These goals are achievable . . . and these goals will be met. These goals will speed the process.

I am assembling a leadership team. Assistant Attorney General Stephen T. Gheen has been selected as Chief Deputy Commissioner. Steve’s 16 years of legal experience, including private practice in workers’ compensation law plus his management experience, will be invaluable as we move to streamline the workers’ compensation process.

I have known Steve for 30 years. I know his work ethic and his organizational skills. I know he can—and will--get the job done. And I know what a valuable partner he will be.

Together, we have already begun to make changes.

Steve has implemented requirements that contested cases at the Deputy level be heard and Opinions rendered more expeditiously.

For cases already heard, Deputies have been asked to work with the attorneys to close the record and issue opinions immediately.

In the past thirty days, our Deputies working together have issued more opinions than any month this year. I appreciate their commitment to the task.

We are moving to make our staff more accessible by telephone and in person. Specific time limits and procedures have been set for handling requests. A new telephone system has been approved for installation that will be more user friendly.

At the Full Commission, we have initiated new standards limiting the time to write decisions on appeals, cutting the time taken to write dissents, and setting specific time limits to circulate written cases for signature of other panel members. In the past thirty days, the Commissioners have rendered more opinions than during any month this year--in fact twice the Commission’s previous monthly average. I thank my fellow commissioners for their efforts.

As we make changes, we will need help to strengthen our existing programs. I will ask the General Assembly to provide additional support staff in mediation and claims and additional professional staff in our three major outreach programs: safety education, fraud investigation and Ombudsmen. These programs must be strengthened to better serve all North Carolinians.

Beyond us there are citizens of our great State that have been injured or developed an occupational illness. They and their families depend on us to decide whether or not they will receive benefits to support themselves and their family. The decision is in our hands as to whether they will receive medical treatment. This is a profound public trust that requires us to look at our roles not from the perspective of our needs and conveniences but from their perspective. The Commission has to timely answer their fate and be right in its judgments. The Commission and its staff and lawyers across the State will have to work harder, process cases differently and strive to make the Commission work more effectively for the people.

I’ve been repeatedly asked: "will you be a business-oriented chairman or a plaintiffs’ chairman?" My intention is to be the Chairman who makes the system work for the people of North Carolina!

I promise you that my door will always be open. I’ll be as close as the telephone. I’ll give this job everything I’ve got.

I ask for your help, for your support, for your prayers and for your dedication to this task.

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N.C. Industrial Commission · 4319 Mail Service Center · Raleigh, NC 27699-4319
Main:  (919) 807-2500 · Fax:  (919) 715-0282
Internet Address:  http://www.comp.state.nc.us/