ELGIN, Texas (KXAN) — Even though it’s rapidly taking on the characteristics of an Austin suburb, Elgin, which is 45 minutes east of the Texas capitol, undoubtedly still has a small-town Texas feel — the kind where you may not be able to have a pizza delivered, but you know your neighbors well, Stephanie Lippke explained.
That “everybody knows everybody” mentality is perhaps why the race for mayor of Elgin, which will come to a conclusion this May, has been one people in the city are talking about — a lot. Specifically when it comes to Lippke, a candidate for the role.
The main reason for the neighbor-to-neighbor chatter: Lippke is actively suing Elgin’s city manager, Thomas Mattis, after years of public back and forth over city transparency, how to govern growth in Elgin and certain city hires, among a plethora of other topics.
Those disagreements have been aired so publicly on social media and in public meetings that of the more than 10,000 people who live in the City of Elgin, it appears roughly 10% of them, give or take the few interested out-of-towners, have signed up to watch the saga play out in a Facebook group called Concerned Citizens of Elgin-Public Information Page. It’s run by Lippke, and she tends to be the sole poster.
More than that are likely to have seen letters and documents from the city manager, where he once accused a group Lippke is involved with of costing the city more than half a million dollars (something Lippke denies). In another letter, Mattis name-dropped Lippke, calling her posts “inaccurate, unwarranted, and continuous personal attacks.”
We’ll get to all of that.
Meet the candidates for Mayor of Elgin
“People that know me know I’m relentless, I don’t back down, and I get the things I want, because I educate myself and I fight for what is right,” is how Lippke described herself during a Bastrop County Conservatives meet and greet.
In stark contrast, Theresa McShan, Lippke’s opponent, said her approach to governing is much less aggressive — and inspired by her grandfather, whom she frequently stayed with growing up, who was a “very quiet, but strong man.”
“And I kind of picked that up when I was a little girl, because I stayed with them all the time. And it was funny, because whenever grandpa talks, it was like EF Hutton, everybody stopped. So a lot of times, you don’t need to say a whole lot, so that when you do say something, people listen,” McShan said.
You can watch KXAN’s full interview with McShan below:
McShan was on the Elgin city council in the early 2000s and has been involved in so many organizations since she was born in Elgin in 1960 that when asked for an understanding of her experience and history with the growing city she responded, “oh wow, how much time do we have?”
McShan served on the Envision Elgin committee; she has been on the committee for the Hogeye Festival for decades; she’s active in the Mt. Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church, including running the music program and the youth program, among other volunteer positions.
She said if elected mayor, she would focus on responsible growth, an educated and well-oiled government and being a good leader. Managing growth is the main priority for both candidates.
“I don’t see growth as being a bad thing, but planned growth is more important and being smart about how we do things,” McShan said. “And so that’s one of the first things I’ll need to address.”
That’s also something Lippke said is critically important to her, should she win the mayoral seat. Lippke said the city is behind when it comes to having a comprehensive strategic plan, and it needs to attract businesses and restaurants while also working to keep the same Elgin small-town feel the people there love.
You can watch KXAN’s full interview with Lippke below:
“I, 16 years old, got my license and got pulled over, and my mother knew about it before I even got home,” Lippke explained of Elgin. “So, I mean, it’s that type of community. And I think that’s still gonna stay here.”
Despite the tension with the city manager, Lippke said this run for mayor has been years in the making and was not seeded from these incidents. What her public disagreements with the city have done, she said, is get people involved and aware — something she hopes to be able to capitalize on as mayor.
“I have these ‘Lippke for Mayor’ shirts that I wear everywhere, and my husband’s like, ‘We’re never going to get to eat a meal by ourselves again, are we?’ And I’m like, ‘No, no, it’s not gonna happen.’ And that’s fine. I love that, I love that people come up and ask questions and — and want to be engaged,” she said.
‘Subject: Additional Cost to Taxpayers’
So, if you aren’t one of the people on the concerned citizens Facebook page, what exactly happened between Lippke and Mattis, the city manager?
Dated Dec. 15, 2021, Mattis wrote a memorandum to the Elgin mayor and city council detailing his frustrations about a group he claims ultimately cost the city more than $500,000 by breaking up the 2021 Certificates of Obligation process through a petition effort. It wasn’t the first time Mattis had shared frustration about that effort on city letterhead. Mattis declined to comment on this story.
That group is called “Vote Elgin,” and Lippke was heavily involved in its effort to halt the CO process, its website shows. Their biggest concern: the city didn’t actually lay out where the money would go.
“So that means that if there’s not enough money to get it done, they’re knocking at your door again and saying we didn’t have enough money. And that, to me, that’s bad planning. It’s bad forethought. It’s the cart before the horse completely,” Lippke said.
As such, Vote Elgin started a petition that would have legally prevented the city from moving forward with the entirety of the $25 million CO program, as it had planned. Lippke said they had the required signatures to make it happen.
That petition, which Mattis meanwhile insinuated may not have existed in his memorandum by calling it an “alleged petition,” forced the council to break the CO Program into two issuances instead of doing it all at once.
Mattis claimed because the “all-in” total interest cost to finance the second issuance was higher, it will cost the city more than half a million dollars over the 25-year life of the loan.
“City property owners will pay a price due to the efforts of this group — and their supporters — to undermine the 2021 CO program. When it comes to city operations, what is perceived as ‘political gamesmanship’ often has a cost — and in this case, that cost will be over a half a million dollars to City taxpayers,” Mattis wrote in December.
Meanwhile, on the Vote Elgin website, Lippke wrote in June 2021 the following, in part:
“Most citizens agree with the proposals and support them. What most citizens do not agree with is high-handed government, acting without the support and consent of the taxpayers. The City of Elgin and the Elgin City Council have a duty and obligation to inform the citizens of their plans and to ask for us to vote so they may act on them.“
Lippke also wrote at the time, and said again in an interview with KXAN Friday, she believed the city will actually save money through the split of the issuances, because the city was able to “aggressively enter the market” with the first issuance.
“We elect these people to do their due diligence and they just weren’t doing it,” Lippke said.
‘Re: False Allegation(s) made by Stephanie Lippke’
It wouldn’t be the first or the last time Mattis would write an official letter, in his capacity as city manager, about Lippke. Moving forward, he would actually name-drop her.
In a video posted on YouTube by Lippke, which has only sound and no video, and is referenced in court documents and city letters, Mattis and Lippke have the following exchange:
Mattis: “You’re not going to meet with any of my staff without me present.”
Lippke: “Alright then.”
Mattis: “You would expect to be able to do that? The way you’ve acted, the way you’ve treated us with disrespect?”
Lippke: “I pay taxes in this city.”
Mattis: “I don’t give a s–t what you pay.”
Lippke: “Oh my god.”
Mattis: “Do you want me to say that again?”
Lippke can then be heard thanking the other city staffers present for their professionality before saying someone else in the room should retire. There’s some commotion and shortly before the audio recording cuts out, Lippke can be heard saying, “You hit me with the door, what an a–hole.”
That interaction is the starting point for a series of lawsuits Lippke and her attorney filed against Mattis.
Those documents claim the altercation happened when Lippke went to meet with the City of Elgin’s director of finance. Lippke claims Mattis slammed the door into her on her way out, “causing Plaintiff severe injuries to her shoulder, which required surgery to repair,” court documents stated.
An Elgin Police Department body camera video a week after the incident shows she told police: “I don’t have any bruisings or marks, it’s this shoulder blade that’s bothersome. I’ve made a doctors appointment just to check it out.” She also said to the officer she didn’t come forward sooner, because she was stuck in a “victim mentality.”
When the officer asked if she had any injuries that needed immediate EMS attention, Lippke responded, “oh gosh, no, no, no.” The officer asked Lippke to forward any documentation from her doctor to him, and she said she would.
According to documents, that case was handed to the Texas Rangers. KXAN filed an open records request for their report. We will update this story when we receive a response.
The response from Mattis on this whole situation can be found in a July 8, 2021 letter that was posted on the City of Elgin website which reads in part: “Given all the circumstances surrounding this situation, I have no regrets about my conduct or what was said.”
James Ringel, associate attorney at Law Office of Derek R. Van Gilder, who is representing Lippke, sent the following statement about the ongoing process:
“We are still representing Ms. Lippke in her suit against Mr. Mattis, wherein we have filed claims for civil assault, libel, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. That lawsuit is still active, and beyond those basic facts, we prefer not to comment on active litigation so as to avoid trying our case in the court of public opinion. I’m sure you understand, and I nonetheless thank you for reaching out to us.”
Early voting in the local election starts Monday. Election Day is May 7.