When applying for work, jobseekers generally aren’t aren’t asked about their political, religious, or moral beliefs.
In most cases employers know they can’t ask those sorts of questions under the U.S. Constitution and equal employment opportunity rules. But Williamson County commissioners don’t believe those rules applied when they appointed a new constable.
After Williamson County Precinct 3 Constable Bobby Gutierrez retired, commissioners had to appoint a new constable. They interviewed five candidates. And the questions they asked those candidates during the interviews raised eyebrows.
“Was I for gay marriage or against gay marriage?” former candidate Robert Lloyd said he was asked. “The next question was, what was my thoughts on abortion? Was I pro-life or pro-choice?”
“I knew the question was coming about church because in the realm of the questions that were being asked,” Lloyd continued.
Lloyd has more than 27 years of law enforcement experience. He was one of five candidates interviewed for the constable post which pays a taxpayer funded salary of $71,785 a year.
Other candidates have also confirmed to KXAN they were asked about their religion, their stance on abortion and their views on gay marriage. But the Williamson County Commissioners don’t see anything wrong with it.
“In general, this is a process that is different than a normal employment interview, because it is an elected position,” said County Commissioner Valerie Covey.
The decision on who got the job was made solely by the four commissioners and County Judge Dan Gattis.
Critics say the law is clear: Questions about religion, abortion, and gay marriage during job interviews are off limits.
“There’s no semantical dance out of this one,” said Jim Harrington of the Texas Civil Rights Project. “You can’t ask religious questions. You can’t ask associational questions. The only questions you can ask are job-related, specific questions.”
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is clear and so is the Texas Constitution.
Article 1 of the Texas Bill of Rights states, “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State”
And the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or the EEOC rules state “An employer may not base hiring decisions on stereotypes and assumptions about a person’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or genetic information.”
“We’ve crossed this bridge decades and decades ago, you know, that we don’t do this type of discrimination,” said Harrington. “This is really gross malfeasance with respect to the taxpayers money.”
“They don’t understand why they were asked, how it pertained to the job at all. They’re not happy about it,” said former constable candidate Barry Simmons.
Simmons has nearly three decades of law enforcement experience, including many years in the Precinct 3 Constables Office. In the last election he received more than 48 percent of the primary vote. But he didn’t get an interview when the commissioners were seeking a replacement for Gutierrez. Simmons says he plans to run again in the next election.
After asking about gay marriage, abortion and religion, commissioners unanimously appointed Kevin Stofle, a former assistant chief with the Georgetown Police Department.
Stofle does have decades of law enforcement experience, but he also has family ties to the commissioners court. His brother-in-law, Hal Hawes is the commissioners’ attorney. Hawes’ wife is still registered as the creator of the website www.kevinstofle.com.
But Commissioner Covey says that had nothing to do with the decision to appoint Stofle.
“Mr. Hawes was not involved in the process at all,” said Covey.
“We made several attempts to contact all Williamson County Commissioners to find out how questions on gay marriage, abortion, and religion could possibly have anything to do law enforcement experience and qualifications for being a constable. All but Valerie Covery said they were too busy to go on camera. But a couple of them did weigh in via emails.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Cynthia Long said the constable was appointed through a statutory process
that is political by nature. And she said that because the constable is normally an elected position, to not include those types of questions would have been naive.
Judge Dan Gattis said in an email that a variety of questions were asked that were relevant to someone being appointed as an elected official.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Lisa Birkman said she was in meetings and a workshop for the week and too busy to respond.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Ron Morrison and Constable Stofle did not return calls or emails.
Don’t we take issue with foreign governments do stuff like this? It’s as if the commissioners think that since a member of the GOP resigned they must find one for the job. And therefore party platform type questions are warranted. But they’re not. If candidates were excluded because of their answers to those questions, and not their qualifications for the job – and there may be no way to get the truth about that, since the decision was made in “executive session” – then that’s against the law.
A couple of points are easy to see. This is not being denied, so it happened, and they don’t seem to mind that they violated the constitution or employment law. It’s looks bad that almost all of them don’t want to talk about it. And they don’t think they did anything wrong. Also, obviously constables do not legislate and will never have to vote on matters of marriage, abortion, or religion. A constable is a “public servant”. A servant of all the people and not a servant of the “right” kind of people.
But this is the same old story that’s been going on in Williamson County for some time. When everyone in the county government is of the same religion party, it makes it very insular and secretive. It certainly looks like they wanted to hire someone who was very much like them – not an outsider. And the only way to do that was to ask those kinds of questions. Not to mention the questions of conflict of interest.
This is the kind of government the voters of Williamson County continue to support on election day. It’s frustrating as hell, but it will continue until more people who believe a government like this is wrong start showing up to vote and elect some different people.