Ray Ergenbright breaks silence on Hitler emoji email controversy

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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) -- In response to what's been called "a flood of" television and radio advertisements calling for the recall of Karen Rose, Harrisonburg's Commissioner of the Revenue, Ray Ergenbright held a press conference in front of Harrisonburg City Hall on Monday afternoon, a day before Election Day.

Ergenbright, the man at the center of a months-long controversy raised by Nexus Services over a Hitler emoji in an email, revealed in a Freedom of Information Act request, publicly addressed the community for the first time, saying that the recent advertisements (which have been commissioned by a group started by Nexus) have caused "irreparable harm to his reputation."

He stated that the email he sent on March 8th was was intended only for the eyes of the recipient and was aimed at his coworker and no one else. He acknowledged he could have used better judgment with use of the emoji, but insisted that it was never meant to disrespect anyone.

In his statement, Ergenbright said, "I alone authored the email, and I alone know what my intent was in doing so. As stated before, it was never intended to show disrespect to anyone."

Ergenbright also added, "I deeply regret that my actions created any negative publicity, or called into question the integrity of Jean Shrewsbury and Karen Rose."

The radio and television advertisements caused "irreparable harm" to his reputation, said Ergenbright during the press conference. "I am a loyal and hardworking employee and respectful of my coworker."

No questions were taken due to a pending lawsuit, and Ergenbright was followed in speaking by Karen Rose and then Jean Shrewsbury, the Commissioner of Revenue for Augusta County, who expressed support for Rose.

"We realize tax assessment is not a popular government function," said Shrewsbury.

Community members at the press conference say it is time to move on from the issue.

"I think it was really important, the message I took away was that it's unfair to tarnish the reputation the whole department based on the one email he sent," said Tom Mendez, who supports Karen Rose.

Ralph Sampson, Sr. who used to work for the city, added, "To me, she don't deserve it, the other thing I want to say is she needs someone to come back an apologize, for their actions, the way we're trying to move forward not backwards."

You can watch full video of the press conference below this article.

---WHAT THIS IS ALL ABOUT---

Ergenbright is the Business Auditor of the City of Harrisonburg. In May of 2016, Nexus obtained emails from Augusta County leaders through a Freedom Of Information Act request and found that one of those emails, from Ergenbright, contained a Hitler emoji. In a lawsuit, Nexus claimed this symbol was used in reference to a gay Nexus employee and an African-American employee. However, Ergenbright says there was no reference to any individual's ethnicity or sexuality in his email.

Ergenbright worked part-time for Karen Rose when the alleged Hitler emoji incident took place.

Since that time, Nexus has organized protests outside City Hall on a regular basis, and has called for the firing of Ergenbright. A group launched by Nexus in July called ARMED (Americans Resisting Minority and Ethnic Discrimination) then created a petition calling for the recall of Karen Rose from her position.

In June, however, 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."

You can read more about the emoji incident and all the controversy which has surrounded it in the Related Stories section of this article.