Jerry Votendahl’s letter of June 5 regarding Tom Cooper not working as a full-duty deputy for nearly two years is clearly intended to implicate Sheriff John Turner for revealing confidential information.
Missing from Votendahl’s letter is the fact that Mr. Cooper, not Sheriff Turner, made this information public in the U-B article published April 14, 2013. Mr. Cooper’s contribution to the article also included personal medical information and claims on how his medical condition should have resulted in different employment decisions by Sheriff Turner.
These are significant and not merely incidental facts, because when taken in context, they completely change the story. Information regarding work injury claims are protected by strict laws of confidentiality and prohibits all but the injured from disclosing what medical issues can prohibit return to full or light duty work.
Following Mr. Cooper’s public self-disclosure, however, Sheriff Turner was justifiably able and obligated to counter ill-informed characterizations of his decision regarding Mr. Cooper’s work status.
Mr. Cooper could and probably should have refrained from disclosing this information. Since he did not, Sheriff Turner acted consistent with employment rules governing Labor and Industries injury claims. Mr. Cooper was found unable to perform the essential functions of his job.
This had to be a tough call for Sheriff Turner as his response surely was going to be broadcast as retaliatory and politically motivated. And of course, as evidenced in Mr. Votendahl’s letter, it was broadcast in just that way.
Importantly, Sheriff Turner did not make his decision in a vacuum; he consulted the county’s personnel/risk manager and the contracted county labor counsel.
Sheriff Turner did the right thing by the citizens of the county by adhering to sound employment practices and preserving a physically capable work force to protect the citizens of the county, and he did so at great personal and political risk.
Sheriff Turner’s self-defense against the claims by Mr. Cooper and his supporters has been described as “malicious.” The sequence of events started, however, with Mr. Cooper stepping into the election campaign arena and taking the first swing.
It can hardly be considered malicious or improper for the sheriff to counter with factual information.