by BRAD ROLLINS
For some time I have confessed openly that I can no longer claim anything resembling objectivity toward County Judge Elizabeth Sumter nor any agents of her reign of error as the county’s top administrator. This includes her valet Steve Klepfer, running against Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley, a decent guy with a record as impressive as Klepfer’s is lackluster.
So it was with admitted glee the other day that I prepared a story about a former Wimberley city employee’s allegations of misconduct against Klepfer when he was mayor of Wimberley. The employee alleged that she had been intimidated by Klepfer in the runup to municipal elections in 2006 because she was seen speaking to and displaying a yard sign for city council candidates of whom Klepfer disapproved. He called her into a meeting with the then-city administrator and other city officials and proceeded to “counsel” her on the pitfalls of city employees participating in city politics. Meanwhile, one of Klepfer’s city council candidates hid around a corner, listening to Klepfer upbraid the employee for exercising her free speech rights.
I might have known better but I felt compelled to solicit Klepfer’s response about such an incendiary story so I called him at his wife’s store and, after hearing him fiddle with what I assumed to be a voice recorder, he consented to speak to me about the allegations, which he denied. So that was that.
Not 20 minutes later, the former Wimberley employee called me in a panic, saying she had received a number of calls in rapid succession, including one from Klepfer’s campaign treasurer Marilee Wood, and that she wished to rescind permission to use documents pertaining to her experience. It’s anyone’s guess what Klepfer’s goons said to the lady but one supposes they did not call to exchange pleasantries.
Any cub reporter or even journalism student can tell you that sources can’t take information back and I was, and still am, tempted to go ahead with the revelations. In this situation however she had waived attorney-client privilege through her attorney, Charles Soechting, and out of deference to the position he was now in — and feeling bad for this poor woman being set upon by political jackals — I consented to not run the story that day. I still have not decided if I will publish the documents.
If I had any doubts about the story’s relevance beforehand, I can have no reservations now having witnessed firsthand a swift and ruthless campaign of suppression waged against this former city employee. This is the worst kind of hayseed thuggery and people ought to know about it before they cast their ballots. The First Amendment, it seems, meant little to Klepfer in 2006 and means even less to him today.
The episode also sheds some light as to why an unprecedented number of prominent Hays County Democrats have crossed party lines to cast their lot with Conley. These include Soechting, a former Texas Democratic Party chair; former State Rep. Gerald Hill; former state lottery director Nora Linares-Moeller and former Deputy Agricultural Commissioner Mike Moeller, to name a few. Soechting and Mike Moeller, it should be noted, are former Hays County Democratic Party chairs.
Why this display of bipartisanship? Soechting probably said it best: “I feel like county government’s got to function and giving County Judge Liz Sumter a majority is a sure fire way to see government stop working for Democrats and Republicans.”Email | Print