More officials calling for resignation of area commissioner after ‘master race’ comment; administrator says phrase not used in ‘racist manner’
photo by: Leavenworth County video screenshot
Updated at 4:20 p.m. Friday
More officials are publicly denouncing comments that a Leavenworth County commissioner made about being part of a master race.
Commissioner Louis Klemp made the remarks during Tuesday’s regular commission meeting to Triveece Penelton, a black woman representing a firm conducting a study on the County Road 1 corridor south of Tonganoxie.
“I don’t want you to feel like I’m picking on you,” Klemp said at the meeting. “Because we are part of the master race. You know you’ve got a gap in your teeth. You’re the master race, don’t ever forget that.”
Klemp, who is white, also has a gap in his teeth. As criticism of the comments spread through social media, fellow Commissioner Robert Holland told media outlets Klemp should issue an apology and resign.
“What’s this master race?” Holland said during a KCTV5 interview. “None of us are a master race. We’re all Americans, we’re all human beings.”
Holland continued, “I think he is a racist myself. I do … I think he owes an apology to that woman. I think he owes an apology to the whole commission. And the county.”
The Leavenworth City Commission held an emergency meeting Thursday night to address Klemp’s comments. During the meeting, the commission unanimously approved a statement addressing Klemp’s comments and urged the county commissioner to apologize and resign.
“The City Commission unequivocally denounces the use of ‘master race’ or any other language that has historic ties to racism, division and bigotry in any setting at any time,” the statement read. “Further, the City Commission condemns the lack of decorum, professionalism and common decency shown to the woman presenting to the County Commission. Such behavior and treatment has no places in the Leavenworth community, is never justified and should never be allowed.
“The City Commission believes in respect toward our citizens, contractors and others when they approach public officials during a government meeting. The City of Leavenworth strives continuously for unity in our community for all.”
The commission, as its statement acknowledged, has no authority to remove Klemp from office, but “believes it is in the best interest of the Leavenworth community for Mr. Klemp to apologize and resign immediately.”
Klemp currently is scheduled to leave office Jan. 15.
Leavenworth County Commissioner Doug Smith, who represents the southern portion of the county, including Tonganoxie and Basehor, told the Leavenworth Times that Klemp should resign.
He also said Thursday that he was reviewing documents when Klemp made the comments at Tuesday’s meeting and that he didn’t fully grasp at the time what Klemp was saying.
“I would never have made the remark,” Smith told the Times.
Smith said he hasn’t spoken with Klemp since Tuesday’s meeting. Per open meetings laws, commissioners aren’t allowed to discuss county issues outside of meetings.
The commission is scheduled to next meet Tuesday at the Leavenworth County Courthouse.
Leavenworth County Administrator Mark Loughry sent out a news release Friday saying he would not attempt to defend Klemp but he urged the public to “watch the actual video” of Klemp’s comment, which he said was misrepresented.
“I will say … what is being reported in the media is not an accurate representation of what was said during our meeting,” Loughry said in the statement. “Commissioner Klemp has a gap in his front teeth and so did the person presenting to the Commission on Tuesday. On several occasions over the past year Mr. Klemp has made reference that those with a gap in their front teeth are members of the master race. At Tuesday’s meeting he stated that he and the lady presenting to the Board were both members of the master race due to the gap in their teeth.”
Loughry said the use of the term “master race” was perhaps “ill-advised” but that it “was not a reference to Nazis or used in a racist manner in this instance. Leavenworth County has a zero tolerance for racism or discrimination in any form from any staff members.”
A committee of Leavenworth County Republicans appointed Klemp to Clyde Graeber’s seat when the longtime commissioner stepped down because of health issues in late September 2017.
Others nominated for the appointment were Vicky Kaaz and Terry Rogers.
Kaaz won the general election earlier this month to replace Klemp, while Rogers most recently served as campaign manager for Tony Barton, who lost to Democratic incumbent Jeff Pittman in the Kansas House 41st District race on Nov. 6.
Klemp also made comments that some viewed controversial last November.
During approval of county holidays, Klemp shared some opinions.
“Not everybody does them all because we have Robert E. Lee. Oh God, Robert E. Lee. Wonderful part of history,” Klemp said at the time.
He continued: “It bothers me that if we’re going to have Martin Luther King Day, why don’t we have a George Washington (Day)? I think George was a pretty important guy.” He said, “We don’t have Washington anymore. He may be removed anyway because he had slaves.”
Klemp later apologized for the comments.
Klemp has not responded to requests for comments from various media outlets, but did tell a KSHB reporter off camera that his statement was intended to be a joke.