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Oregon town officials ask sheriff to investigate reporters
Malheur County, Ore., officials have asked the sheriff to investigate whether local newspaper the Malheur Enterprise engaged in criminal conduct by emailing or calling them outside business hours at personal email addresses or numbers, the Enterprise reported Monday.
Greg Smith, the director of the county's Economic Development Department, told the newspaper in an email earlier in August that "we were instructed to turn over your emails to the Malheur County Sheriff's Office." Smith is an independent contractor, not a county employee.
"It is not appropriate that you are sending emails to employees using their personal email accounts on the weekends," Smith wrote, saying the newspaper staff had been asked "to not have our employees contacted outside of their work place."
County Counsel Stephanie Williams told the newspaper she had sought Sheriff Brian Wolfe's help to determine "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."
The state of Oregon defines telephonic harassment as "if the caller intentionally harasses or annoys another person" through a phone number they have been forbidden to use, according to the Enterprise.
"We are a small, independently owned news source trying to hold public officials accountable," editor and publisher Les Zaitz said. "Rather than provide information and truth, local officials appear more interested in criminalizing a profession protected by the First Amendment."
He added that the calls for an investigation followed several investigative reports in the newspaper that raised questions about Smith's handling of the economic development agency, according to the Enterprise.