Councilman Apologizes for Threatening Newspaper

by | January 8, 2015

By Paige Jones

Kirby Delauter, a Frederick County councilman, issued an apology Wednesday after he wrote on social media earlier this week threatening to sue The Frederick News-Post for publishing his name without permission, garnering national attention.

"Of course, as I am an elected official, the Frederick News-Post has the right to use my name in any article related to the running of the county -- that comes with the job," Delauter wrote in a statement. "So yes, my statement to the Frederick News-Post regarding the use of my name was wrong and inappropriate."

Almost two hours after the statement went out, Delauter also posted an apology on Facebook, apologizing to reporter Bethany Rodgers, whom he had threatened to sue.

"I want to take this opportunity to apologize to Bethany Rodgers, the Frederick News-Post and all my constituents for disrespecting the journalists and media outlets who cover the Frederick county government," Delauter wrote.

In a Facebook status posted Saturday, Delauter said he was upset with Rodgers for "an unauthorized use of my name and my reference in her article" published Jan. 3 about his and Councilman Billy Shreve's concerns over County Council parking spaces. He told her not to contact him again and forbid her from using his name or reference in print again.

Rodgers commented on Delauter's status Sunday afternoon, saying she will continue to contact the councilman for comment and print his name and refer to him in the paper. Newspapers do not require an elected official's permission before publishing his or her name or referring to the official, she wrote.

Delauter followed up in a Facebook comment saying he would pursue legal action if his name or reference were published again.

"Use my name again unauthorized and you'll be paying for an Attorney," Delauter wrote. "Your rights stop where mine start."

The post went viral Tuesday as many national media outlets began publishing Delauter's words and readers took to social media, creating the popular hashtag #KirbyDelauter and even starting the parody Twitter account @KirbyDelauter.

An online petition on calling for Delauter's resignation gained more than 80 signatures by Wednesday evening, only hours after a New Market resident started the petition.

Doloris G. Whipp, a Thurmont resident, said she believes Delauter should resign in light of his recent actions.

"He should act like a gentleman," she said, referring to Delauter's role as a Frederick County councilman.

In his statement, Delauter said he has "fired off my fair share of angry e-mails" and noted their typical effect of escalating conflict.

"I thought I had long ago learned the lesson of waiting 24 hours before I hit the send key, but apparently I didn't learn that lesson as well as I should have," Delauter wrote.

Delauter could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

Terry Headlee, The Frederick News-Post's managing editor, said the newspaper has accepted Delauter's explanation and will move on.

"We're glad he finally saw the light," Headlee said. "Based on the reader reaction we have received, this was not going to end well for him. And if nothing else it's a good lesson to wait a day before hitting the send key on an angry email or posting. That's something that a lot of people, including myself, can relate to."

Rodgers also accepted Delauter's apology.

"I appreciate Councilman Delauter's apology and his statements acknowledging the First Amendment rights of the press," she wrote in an email. "I look forward to continuing to report on Frederick County government and its elected leaders."

County Council President Bud Otis and County Executive Jan Gardner declared their commitment to an "open and transparent government" in their joint statement with Delauter, acknowledging the role a free press plays in democracy.

"We must have respectful communication and dealings with the public and the press," Otis said in the statement. "That is our intended policy."

In a phone interview with The News-Post, Otis called the statement "a collaborative effort" and cited the council's intention to continue forward.

"We need to move past this," he said.

(c)2015 The Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md