Yesterday Scot Kelsh, a Democrat who served in the state House from 199-2014, lost his appeal over his termination from the City of Fargo’s fire department at a hearing before the city’s Civil Service Commission.
Kelsh says he has a condition, revealed during the hearing to be post-traumatic stress disorder, which prevents him from working as a firefighter. The city’s position was that because he can’t work as a firefighter, he can’t work for the city.
You can read a write up of the hearing from the Fargo Forum‘s Helmut Schmidt here. Of note for the purposes of this post is this passage:
Documents obtained in an open records request were redacted to delete references to Kelsh’s medical issues, though Civil Service Commission members referenced the diagnosis of PTSD during Tuesday’s hearing.
This morning attorney Meg Morley, who is representing Kelsh, contacted me about this saying the commission inappropriately released the status of Kelsh’s condition.
“It’s really unfair,” she told me. “It’s not a court hearing I can’t object or have anything stricken from the record.”
Morley said that leadership in the Fargo Fire Department has claimed to be sensitive to PTSD issues in the past.
“The chief who testified yesterday and was a witness on behalf of the city testified [at the Legislature] last year that PTSD was a real thing and something his guys were affected by,” Morley told me. “When it came to Scot was like ‘hey buddy this is your problem.'”
“Railroaded is the best way to describe it,” she continued. “Scot says he feels completely abandoned by an employer and an organization he trusted. Through no fault of his own, because of the position, he developed a disability. It was no different than if Scot had been burned while at a site or cut, it’s the exact same thing.”
State law, specifically section 44-04-18.1 of the North Dakota Century Code, does state that a state employees medical details are confidential and can only be released with the consent of the employee:
Morley says the commissioners were wrong to discuss Kelsh’s PTSD issues publicly. She said she worked extensively with City Attorney Nancy Morris before the hearing to ensure that all references to PTSD were redacted from the documents made public.
“Every time they said it I just cringed because why did we fight so hard to redact this?” Morley told me. “It was awful.”
I asked Morley if she felt divulging the PTSD issues was a calculated move on the part of the commissioners.
“I don’t know if it was calculated so much as ignorance on the part of the commissioners,” she said.
I contacted Morris and asked her if she felt the PTSD issues had been divulged inappropriately.
“No not necessarily,” she told me. “We had redacted the documents in response to an open records request by Helmut Schmidt. The informatino was made available to the civil service commission on which to base their decision.”
I told Morris about Morley’s concerns. “I’m not in a position to opine if she feels there is a problem,” Morris responded. “We did our best to comply with state open records laws.”
“This is still a pending matter so I do feel somewhat constrained in my comments, and it’s an employment situation where we attempted to be as sensitive to the employees condition as possible in the process,” she added.
I’m agnostic as to whether or not Kelsh should have been terminated. On one hand, I’m sensitive to the PTSD issue. On the other hand, what do you expect when you become a first responder? You’re going to see some awful stuff. Should the city have to find new work for every firefighter who can’t cope with the job any more?
I’m not sure. But it does seem inappropriate that the city cavalierly divulged Kelsh’s private medical information in a public hearing.