State banking commissioner regrets call, but says it wasn't unethical

Sunday, December 19th 2004, 5:27 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Banking Commissioner Mick Thompson said he regrets making a call on behalf of a private business interest while he was on state time, but does not think he did anything unethical.

Thompson in November called the state Insurance Department on behalf of UICI, a Texas-based company for which he serves on the board of directors.

Insurance Department lawyer George Phillips, in a letter to other department officials, accused Thompson of misusing his office by making the call.

``It is improper, if not illegal, for the Oklahoma State Banking Commissioner to be contacting us using state equipment, on state time, in furtherance of a goal of a private company, which we regulate, on which he serves on the board of directors,'' Phillips wrote.

At the request of a UICI official, Thompson called the Insurance Department's acting commissioner, Daryl England, on behalf of the company. Thompson said he was just providing England the name of the UICI official who was handling the company's regulatory issues. Thompson confirmed he called from his state office.

``I take my reputation very seriously, and I've worked very hard to be sure that I didn't damage it. ... I just hate for one issue _ that was meant to be nothing _ to do that,'' said Thompson, who has been the state's banking commissioner for more than 12 years. ``It's been a learning experience for me.''

State laws allow agency leaders to pursue private business interests and about a dozen have second incomes. Thompson, 57, said he strives to keep his responsibilities as commissioner of a state agency separate from his service on the private company's board.

Records show Thompson used his state phones to call UICI officials 75 times, with most calls brief in nature, The Oklahoman reported. Thompson said he reimburses the state for any personal cell phone calls and provided the newspaper with records showing he took annual leave from his state job to attend UICI board meetings or participate in conference calls.

``I have tried very, very hard to keep a line between this, because my banking career is a lot more important to me than sitting on some board,'' Thompson said.

Thompson joined the UICI board in November 2003 after being asked by a friend, UICI founder Ron Jensen. He makes about $110,000 as the state's banking commissioner and was paid $38,000 to be on UICI's board of directors, the newspaper reported.

In retrospect, Thompson said he should have acted differently.

``I should have said, 'You need to call up there yourself.' That's the mistake I made,'' Thompson said. ``It was innocent. ... I didn't think it was a big deal.''