The Wal-Mart community affairs director for Arizona and Southern California, whose office approved an advertisement that appeared to equate a local zoning proposal with Nazi book-burning, has resigned, the giant retailer said.
Peter Kanelos, who oversees the chain's public relations effort in both states, will leave the company Friday, said Daphne Moore, who runs the community affairs program for Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
Wal-Mart has not publicly announced Kanelos's resignation, but Moore acknowledged it in an interview yesterday. Asked if Wal-Mart requested that Kanelos leave the company, Moore said, "I can tell you he resigned."
Kanelos, in an e-mail, said he is leaving the company "on mutually agreeable terms" but would not elaborate.
The firm Wal-Mart hired to design the ad said it had severed its six-year relationship with the company as well.
Wal-Mart has said it reviewed and cleared for publication a full-page advertisement in the May 8 edition of the Arizona Daily Sun featuring a 1933 photo of Germans throwing books on a pyre at Berlin's Opernplatz. The ad was part of a campaign, funded by Wal-Mart, to defeat a Flagstaff, Ariz., ballot initiative that would have restricted the chain's growth. Voters later narrowly rejected the measure.
The ad drew criticism from the Anti-Defamation League, members of Congress and Wake-Up Wal-Mart, a union-funded organization. Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retailer, responded by apologizing in a second newspaper ad and by setting up a hotline for local residents to call.
The controversy became high-profile enough for S. Robson Walton, Wal-Mart's chairman, to address it last week during the retailer's annual shareholder meeting, a generally festive affair for which the company flies in thousands of employees to highlight its accomplishments.
"We're just a bunch of humans trying to run this company," Walton said of the incident. "We make mistakes."
In a letter to ADL leaders about the ad, sent in mid-May, Wal-Mart said it had "taken corrective action to make sure this does not happen again."
Kanelos, who serves as a media spokesman and lobbies local government leaders for Wal-Mart, said he submitted his resignation two weeks ago and looks "forward to having more time to spend with my family."