Raleigh economic staffer apologizes after offensive Twitter comments

James Sauls, Raleigh’s economic development manager.
James Sauls, Raleigh’s economic development manager.

A top business recruiter for Raleigh’s city government apologized Friday for Twitter posts he made under a different name that targeted local politicians and used offensive language.

James Sauls, Raleigh’s economic development manager, confirmed that he was the person responsible for the Twitter account known as “Hot Rod Earl.” He said the account posted “critical comments on world affairs.”

Hired by the city in November 2013, Sauls manages all aspects of economic development, coordinates efforts with the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Raleigh Alliance, manages the city’s business incentives and is responsible for seven full- and part-time employees, according to a job description provided by the city.

Sauls deleted many of the tweets on the account following a spat with other Twitter users Wednesday. But two of those users – Raleigh residents Jai Kumar and Josh Hill – took photos of “Earl’s” old tweets.

Those photos show Earl tweeting that state Sen. Phil Berger is “a true piece of (excrement)” and that former Gov. Pat McCrory should take his (rear) “back to Ohio.” A photo of another tweet shows Earl telling conservative pundit Tomi Lahren that he would respect her comments more if she had her breasts “out while talking.”

Asked about those tweets, Sauls said only that “all posts have been retracted. I am apologizing for any troubles that past tweets may have caused anyone.”

Without identifying himself on the Twitter account, Sauls used it Friday to apologize “to any and all that may have been affected by past tweets from my personal twitter account.”

“The intent of past posts on my personal Twitter account were not meant to harm, degrade or indignify anyone,” he posted. “I have learned an invaluable lesson and would like everyone to know that my comments made on my personal twitter are in no way a true reflection of who I am as a person, father, husband, son or friend.”

In a phone interview, Sauls said the tweets were meant to be funny. “It was part of the playfulness of what the account was for me, personally.”

The apology comes three days after the Earl account got into an online argument with Hill and Kumar. Hill tweeted Tuesday that Wake County government might raise property taxes for the fourth time in four years. The Earl account tweeted that Hill could “go back to VA.”

Hill quickly discovered Earl’s identity because, he said, the Twitter account was linked to Sauls’ Facebook account and one of his phone apps.

Of Sauls’ Twitter apology, Hill said, “It’s tantamount to someone saying I’m sorry if what I said offended you.”

Sauls said he hasn’t been punished by city officials and isn’t sure whether he will be.

City spokesman Damien Graham declined to comment on the matter, saying only that Sauls’ tweets don’t reflect the views of the city and that any action related to Sauls would be an internal matter and not subject to public records requests.

City Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin, who had said on Twitter this week that she didn’t think Sauls was behind the Earl account, said Friday, “I’m limited on what I can say because it’s a personnel matter. James took ownership and apologized, and I think it speaks to his credit that he did that.”

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht