GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) - 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.
That's true. Constables are usually elected by voters. But in this case, the elected constable resigned. The commissioners conducted the interviews and made the decision in executive session, without public input, and appointed a replacement.
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.
"I think the voters spoke out the first time and I think they should have that opportunity again," he said.
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.
The Civil Rights Project says it plans to file a lawsuit regarding the questions asked during the constable interview process.
As for whether the commissioners exposed taxpayers to liability by asking these questions, the County Attorney's Office sent KXAN this statement:
"There has not been any complaint to this office of a violation of State law enforceable by this office and we do not generally comment or answer hypothetical legal questions."
"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.
Voters will have the chance to decide who should be the next Williamson County Precinct 2 Constable in the next election.
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