Story by Andrea Tudhope
Long-time city planner Triveece Penelton always thought if she ever made national news, it would be because of a great project.
But last week, the attention came instead when a Leavenworth County commissioner — a white man addressing a black woman — made a comment about the "master race" to her after she gave a presentation.
"No one wants to have a little micro part of their life all over the world in a negative fashion because someone was disrespectful," Penelton told KCUR. "The magnitude of his comment is so great."
After nine months of work gathering community input in Leavenworth, Penelton presented a development proposal. County commissioners Louis Klemp expressed disappointment in the proposal in a strange way.
"I don't want you to think I'm picking on you, because we're part of the 'master race,'" Klemp said, pointing to his teeth. "You know, you've got a gap in your teeth, you're the master race, don't ever forget that."
A public outcry followed. Calls for Klemp to resign stacked up quickly. His two fellow county commissioners, the city of Leavenworth, and Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer all said he should resign. The use of a term with Nazi origins made national news.
Klemp ultimately resigned Tuesday morning, issuing an apology in his resignation letter.
"I regret my recent comment made during a Leavenworth County Commission Meeting and for the negative backlash to the community," he wrote. "My attempts at identifying a similarity (space between our teeth) with a presenter were well-meaning but misinterpreted by some and definitely not racially motivated."
Colyer got news of the resignation Tuesday and called it the right move.
"Kansans expect us to do the right thing, and that's what this is about," Colyer told Kansas Public Radio Tuesday. "We're a very tolerant state. We're the heart of America."
Penelton said in her 16 years as a city planner, people have made many racist remarks to her, or around her. But this one happened in public. And, she said she believes things are changing.
"We can't continue to allow racist views to just pass by," she said. "We've reached a point now where people feel like they have to say something, because if you don't, people will continue to be comfortable in their position, when their position is really hurtful to people. But they don't seem to know, or they're not interested in the impact they have.
"But others are, so they are speaking out, and that's a really powerful moment," she said.
Penelton said she hopes people learn from the incident, especially those in positions of power.
"I'm prayerful that we as professionals, as a country and as a world can just begin to respect one another so that other people," she said, "aren't having to go through this."