Once again, a Malheur County official has accused the Enterprise of engaging in criminal conduct.
Greg Smith, the county’s economic development director, made the claim regarding email traffic to the official email address of the Malheur County Economic Development.
Smith reacted to emails from the Enterprise that were pressing for the release of public records that were overdue. This was part of the newspaper’s continuing reporting on Smith and his county agency.
The economic development director ended the exchange on Saturday, Dec. 14, by stating in an email: “This is telephonic harassment. Please stop contacting me.”
In Oregon, telephonic harassment is a crime, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
The crime, however, has nothing to do with emails. Rather, it prohibits making unwanted calls that make another person’s phone ring and are intended to annoy or harass.
The communication triggering Smith’s claim was all done via email. The record shows that Smith was accessing the government email account from his phone but he was responding via email from his Malheur County account.
By email, he was later asked questions questions about how he concluded that emails represented criminal conduct or whether he had asked county officials to formally investigate. He hasn’t responded.
This isn’t the first time Smith has claimed criminal behavior by the Enterprise. He brought state and national attention to himself and Malheur County earlier this year by claiming other instances of telephonic harassment and harassment.
Brian Wolfe, Malheur County sheriff, had his agency consider Smith’s complaint. The sheriff decided then not to open an investigation, saying there was no element of a crime. He said both crimes had to involve an element of a threat and that wasn’t present.
The Enterprise had been using customary reporting practices to gain information about public matters.
The Washington Post reported in August that Smith said that he “believes Zaitz and his reporters have the right to contact him at any time through any means, but he took issue with their efforts to contact his employees outside of work.”
I’m sharing Smith’s latest allegation for two reasons. One is to be transparent – so that our readers know we have been accused. The allegation is baseless – there was no crime.
Second, however, is to let our readers and the community know this: The Enterprise will not be intimidated.
When a government official accuses anyone of criminal behavior, that is chilling. Government officials have enormous power. Their claims have to be taken seriously.
And we do take the latest claim seriously. We view this as one more effort by Smith to buffalo the Enterprise into behaving as he wishes, to stop the tough reporting that has him in the spotlight.
Readers can be assured that we will remain on duty as your watchdog, wary but not silenced.
Les Zaitz is editor and publisher of the Enterprise. Email: [email protected]