[This story has been edited to reflect that comments appeared on the Idaho Freedom Action Facebook page.]
The chairman of the Idaho Board of Health and Welfare came under fire Tuesday for comments posted on the Idaho Freedom Action Facebook page, calling someone a “retard.”
Reached at his Bonners Ferry office, Darrell Kerby told the Statesman that he recognized his mistake and deleted the comments within minutes.
“I should have been more sensitive,” Kerby said. “The use of the word is indefensible, and that’s why I took it off within minutes — I recognized how insensitive it was.”
I own it. And I apologize. It’s not defensible.
Darrell Kerby, chairman of the Idaho Board of Health and Welfare
But an Eagle woman whose 7-year-old son has Down syndrome and autism says she questions Kerby’s judgment, given his role in guiding the state’s services for people with disabilities.
“This man is in a position of power to allocate resources to people like my son,” said Erika McCauley. “If he’s willing to use a word like that in ... such a flippant and derogatory way, [it] makes me wonder why he’s in the position he’s in.”
Kerby said McCauley was “absolutely correct in that questioning.”
He said the use of the word “doesn’t reflect my attitude at all. It was a poor choice of words in a fit of anger.”
Kerby said he was “sucked in” to an argument on the organization’s Facebook page.
The ‘r’ word is dehumanizing. When people use it in place of when they mean ‘frustrating’ or ‘disappointing’ or [they are] angry, whether or not they mean to, they’re calling my son that. Words hurt, and words have meaning.
Erika McCauley, parent of a 7-year-old with developmental disabilities
A spokesman for Gov. Butch Otter said the governor plans to speak with Kerby about the comments soon.
“The use of that word in any instance is unfortunate, insensitive and not acceptable,” Otter’s press secretary Jon Hanian said in an email.
Kerby said he does not use the word in his daily life but might have “as a kid, as a youth.”
Idaho Department of Health and Welfare spokesman Tom Shanahan told the Statesman that Kerby is “pretty thoughtful, engaged, a real considerate board member, so I hope people can forgive him. ... I think he just made a terrible mistake, and it was insensitive.”
McCauley said the Treasure Valley Down Syndrome Association’s video called “End the R-word” offers some explanation of the negative effect the word can have.
Kerby was appointed to the board in 2007 by Otter. He became chairman about a year and a half ago, he said. His term on the board expires January 2019.
The board’s role is to promote and protect the public health and well-being of Idahoans. It can adopt, amend or repeal rules and standards of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. Seven citizen board members are appointed to represent each of the seven geographic regions of the state. Kerby represents Region 1 in North Idaho.