For the first time, Karen Rose, Harrisonburg's Commissioner of the Revenue addressed the lawsuit against mostly Augusta County leaders. One of the people named within the lawsuit works under her, part-time.
In the statement, Rose said she investigated the use of an alleged Hitler emoji. Nexus Programs Incorporated accused Gene Ergenbright of taking the image from a white supremacist website. Rose said Ergenbright instead got it from a "simple Google search for 'smiley face" and that "no discriminatory, harassing or inflammatory emojis were directed at, related to or referred to any taxpayer."
She added, "I'm coordinating with the City of Harrisonburg and legal counsel to clarify internet and email usage policies, and to conduct training for my employees on policy and best practices with respect to official email and internet use."
Wednesday, Nexus workers, concerned community members, and civil rights leaders gathered to protest what they call hate speech in the government emails.
Wednesday morning they organized in front of the Rockingham County Circuit Court while calling for that part-time city employee to be fired.
Through a Freedom Of Information Act request, Nexus, which advertises with WHSV, obtained emails from Augusta County leaders. One of the 8,000 emails was from a Harrisonburg part-time employee, Gene Ray Ergenbright, who sent an email from his Harrisonburg city email account to someone in Augusta County. According to the lawsuit, Ergenbright also works part-time for Augusta County.
In the email, a Hitler emoji was used when referring to a gay Nexus employee and an African-American employee. Those emails are included in Nexus' lawsuit against Augusta County leaders which alleges a conspiracy against the Valley business.
WHSV's past coverage of the emoji incident is online:
Press statement from Commissioner of the Revenue Karen I. Rose:
"As Commissioner of the Revenue for the City of Harrisonburg, I am aware of allegations in a lawsuit regarding the use of an emoji, described by the plaintiffs in that lawsuit as a 'Hitler' emoji, by an employee who was using Harrisonburg City Commissioner of the Revenue’s email and computer systems.
My office is not a party to the lawsuit in which the allegation is made. However, I investigated the employee’s internet and email usage. As a result of that investigation, I can confirm the employee obtained the emoji in question from a simple google search for “smiley face;” he did not access any white supremacist website including the website identified in the lawsuit; and no discriminatory, harassing or inflammatory emojis were directed at, related to or referred to any taxpayer.
I am coordinating with the City of Harrisonburg and legal counsel to clarify internet and email usage policies, and to conduct training for my employees on policy and best practices with respect to official email and internet use. Any further comment on the individual employee, including his current status and any discipline, is a personnel matter and it is the policy of my office to keep such matters confidential, as I am permitted to do under the Freedom of Information Act."
Press statement from Mike Donovan of Nexus in response to the commissioner's words:
"As you may know, Commissioner Rose just sent this (see below) patently ridiculous statement that raises serious concerns.
First, in order to find a Hitler emoji when running a Google image search for 'smiley face,' one would have to go through several pages and 180 other images. It is difficult to see how anyone would Google "smiley face" and think that selecting a Hitler emoji for an email is a good idea.
Second, the source of the Hitler emoji on the Google search she references is, in fact, a website (micetrap.net) that is eerily similar to TightRope.cc and distributes hateful white supremacist paraphernalia, including swastikas, Aryan nation flags, and Hitler youth websites.
We're disappointed by Commissioner Rose's statement and hope she considers how her statement only serves to make the issue worse, not better. People will not permit this issue to be swept under the proverbial rug."