Given that the allegations describe relatively routine functions of a reporter's job, the newspaper is not backing down.
Les Zaitz, publisher and editor of the Malheur Enterprise, denied any wrongdoing from his staff, after an attorney for Malheur County went to Sheriff Brian Wolfe with the allegations that reporters may have broken the law by using officials’ personal contact information to call and email them outside of business hours.
“Suggesting that professional journalists are behaving as criminals in gathering vital information for the community appears to be an effort to silence and intimidate the Enterprise,” Zaitz said.
The Enterprise had been investigating Greg Smith -- a Republican state legislator and director of the Malheur County Economic Development Department -- over potential conflicts of interest concerning government contracts.
Smith apparently had asked the newspaper to limit requests “to office hours,” and to only email at a designated county address. “It is not appropriate that you are sending emails to employees using their personal email accounts on the weekends,” Smith told the newspaper.
Amid those objections, county Counsel Stephanie Williams told the Enterprise that she reached out to Sheriff Wolfe to see “if there is a violation to investigate when a county employee’s phone numbers and email addresses are being used when we’ve asked someone to stop calling or communicating on county business on a personal phone or email.”
As of Monday, the Sheriff’s Office had not determined whether or not to launch an investigation. Fox News reached out to Wolfe Tuesday morning, but he did not immediately respond.
State law says that “a telephone caller commits the crime of telephonic harassment if the caller intentionally harasses or annoys another person.” The Enterprise noted that technically Smith is not a government employee but a private contractor, and that he once gave out what he said was his “personal” phone number at a public meeting and said people could call him “24/7.”
It is unclear if there were other individuals who are employed by the county who raised complaints. Fox News has contacted the Enterprise seeking additional details.
Last week, Smith issued a statement in response to the Enterprise’s investigation, which he called a “months-long vendetta.” He said that “over the last six months as me and my staff have been subjected to endless phone calls, hostile emails at all hours of the day and unwelcome office visits, I have grown increasingly confused with the Malheur Enterprise’s obsession with our county’s economic development department.”
On Monday evening, Zaitz brought attention to what he described as an ironic turn of events. After the Enterprise had filed a public records request, the same county agency that complained about after-hours emails sent their confirmation notice on a weekend.