The town clerk's telephone lines were disconnected for almost three days starting Friday, Aug. 5, after a syndicated radio talk show host read the phone number on air urging people to "make their feelings known" about the proposed regulated day-labor site application.
"My guess is we had about 81 calls in under 20 minutes," said Viki Wellershaus, town clerk. "Most of the calls were just 'F-You' and then a hang up."
As of Tuesday, Aug. 9, phone lines were still down and it was unclear when they would be reconnected, said Wellershaus.
"Apparently the talk show host was encouraging people to 'burn down our switchboard'," said Steve Owen, town manager. "We'd been getting a steady stream of e-mails [about the day-labor site application], but we couldn't keep up with the phone calls."
Mark Williams, a syndicated radio host from KFBK radio in Sacramento, Calif., was filling in on the Michael Graham Show, a weekly 9 a.m. to noon spot on 630 WMAL-AM. Graham was recently suspended for one-day because he called Islam a "terrorist organization" during his show. Williams was filling in while Graham was on vacation.
His topic for the Aug. 5 show was the day-labor site application, more specifically Mayor Michael O'Reilly's position. Stating O'Reilly "doesn't get it," Williams encouraged listeners to "help the Mayor ... understand he's breaking the law" by considering the possibility of creating a regulated day-labor site in town. Williams repeatedly called the site, a "daycare center for illegal aliens."
After saying a formalized site would be "assisting criminal aliens who are in this country destroying this country, stealing jobs, running drugs, raping people," Williams urged listeners to "make our feelings known while on the telephone, then call me back and let me know what they say."
WITH THE PHONE LINES backed up and inoperable because of the number of phone calls, town officials determined the best solution would be to shut down the lines.
"We could not keep letting them go into our voice system," said Wellershaus, explaining the volume of callers made it impossible for them to get a line out.
With the exception of a few callers from surrounding counties wanting to express reasonable opinions about the site plan, most of the people calling left hate-filled messages and did not leave a name or contact information, said Wellershaus.
"We had one call that said 'I hope the MS gang members gut you and your family,'" she said. "It's difficult to hear this all day long and then go home to your family and try to be in a good mood."
Hearing public comments, including the "garbage" on Aug. 5, although disturbing, is the town clerk's job and that is what her office did, said Wellershaus.
"We've had several follow up comments since the radio show," she said. "People have been supporting the town, saying they were embarrassed for what happened, that they were sorry it happened."
During Monday's broadcast, Williams responded to a Washington Post article on the incident, saying calls to the town were not hateful.
"I decry and denounce that they actually got hate calls," he said on-air, then went on to speak negatively about O'Reilly again, this time including comments about Owen and Joel Mills, executive council, Project Hope and Harmony.
He also claimed that the men waiting for day work, and those in the country illegally, were the people "stabbing your children in the streets."
Even with Williams spelling his last name and listing his business name, O'Reilly only received one phone call to his work, he said.
"I think it's unfortunate that some people believe in order to have a debate," said O'Reilly, "they have to incite emotions and batter one side."