Steve Klein — Yelm’s Community Media Activist

By Andrea Culletto Nisqually Valley News Correspondent
Posted 3/23/17

For any society to thrive, it requires the active participation of its citizenry. Local activism comes in many forms — educational, environmental, health, safety and so on. For local community …

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Steve Klein — Yelm’s Community Media Activist

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For any society to thrive, it requires the active participation of its citizenry. Local activism comes in many forms — educational, environmental, health, safety and so on. For local community activist Steve Klein, it came in the form of information.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Klein went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Miami, Florida, in 1976 followed by a master’s degree in 1978 with a major in airline management.

He was recruited by Eastern Airlines where he later became the youngest senior sales interim regional director of a Fortune top 50 company at the age of 31. Klein later took a position as assistant sales director of Pacific Southwest Airlines, the “airline with a smile.”

“They had hot pink and burgundy and magenta and these bright colors,” Klein said. “It was the fun airline, real hip in the ’70s and ’80s.”

When PSA was bought out by U.S. Air in the late 1980s Klein chose not to relocate and left to become an industry consultant specializing in marketing live airline computer interfaces for travel agents and business accounts.

After discovering Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment, Klein retired from the airline industry and relocated to Yelm in 1988. He went to work for RSE in 2003 as the travel logistics manager. He went on to work as a Ramtha spokesperson and the school’s event services manager.

 

A Call to Social Activism

Klein’s call to social activism came after 9/11 when he sent an email to a group of friends sharing some key posts that he found compelling and which weren’t widely circulated in the mainstream news.

Driven by a desire to uncover and share useful information, Klein began compiling excerpts of news stories that he found interesting and sending them out in weekly newsletters. This mailing was dubbed “Kleiner’s Korner” and Klein continued to produce it for more than 10 years.

“Every week it grew until I had a worldwide following and an email list of 5,000 to 6,000,” he said. “I found out if I could get my readers direct access to stories they were interested in, for them to read for themselves, it was really vital. So that’s what I did.”

Klein became interested in the local political scene in Yelm, which was experiencing a population boom accompanied by an increase in new city council members and a new mayor. “When I came to Yelm, our population was roughly 1,900 and at this point we were approaching 4,000 so there were some growing pains,” Klein said.

Klein started attending city council meetings and eventually ran for mayor in 2005. The bid was unsuccessful but two months later Klein was contacted by a web designer who encouraged him to continue communicating with the community as he had done throughout his campaign. The designer offered to set up a blog.

“I asked, ‘What’s a blog?’” Klein said.

Initially reluctant to add the project to his workload, Klein’s first blog was published March 29, 2006. That first post discussed the burgeoning school population at the time, an issue which is still relevant today.

In addition to Kleiner’s Korner and the Yelm Community Blog, Klein also added to the local media landscape through the creation of Yelm.com. Klein realized that, while larger businesses were showcased on the Yelm Area Chamber’s website, many small, home-based or cottage industry businesses were lacking coverage.

“I wanted to make a site to represent everyone,” Klein said. “In the end, I spent about $10,000 to create the website as a gift to the community.”

The Yelm Community Blog hit a turning point when Klein encountered a strange lead following proposed development in Yelm that included the 5,000-home Thurston Highlands residential development.

“We were talking about quadrupling the size of this town in relatively short order,” Klein said.



JZ Knight brought a water rights lawsuit against the city and a group of developers, which worked its way to the state Supreme Court where Knight finally prevailed in 2011. The court battle put the Thurston Highlands development on hold until the case could be resolved. In the meantime, the 2008 economic downturn hit and the developers went bankrupt unbeknown to the public, Klein said.

“I was hearing some things at the city council meetings and seeing some public documents that led me to believe that they went bankrupt and that the city was left holding the bag without contracts to get repaid for taxes and environmental impact fees,” Klein said. “So I went to an engineer that I know and I presented some facts. He said, ‘You’re on the right track but you have to do your homework. You have to go get the public documents and put them on the blog because if you come out with your accusations (without them) you are going to have a speeding freight train coming toward you from the city administration, from the developers and some people in Yelm that are going to be very embarrassed about what you reveal. You have to build a wall brick by brick that is impenetrable to that freight train. The way you do it is the way you’ve done it on Kleiner’s Korner. You get the facts, you get the documents with public documents requests and you put it all on the site so it’s irrefutable.’”

Klein published the story in May 2009, complete with relevant documents.

“I broke the story that the Thurston Highlands Development went bankrupt, that the city had known about it from the previous fall, that the city was owed several hundred thousand dollars in taxes and unpaid fees, that the public had not been informed and that this development was not then going to happen,” Klein said.

The publication was not without backlash.

“There were a lot of people with a lot of black eyes here,” Klein said. “My name was mud for a lot of years with the city administration and a lot of people, but nonetheless the public had the right to know.”

Klein started looking into and reporting on other issues in Yelm.

“I realized that this was an important story for the community that I broke and that I had the unique interest, capability and background to be able to do some research on these stories to effectively report on them,” Klein said.

Klein continues to use his online presence to address current issues impacting the Yelm area as well as showcasing local talent and addressing other matters of interest. He still monitors Yelm City Council meetings, although he now usually enjoys the meetings from the comfort of his own home via live streaming.

“I watch every one of them,” he said. “I never miss one.”

He and his wife are fully immersed in the Yelm community and are active contributors to the Yelm Business Association, the Yelm Food Co-op and Thurston County Democrats among other organizations. Philanthropy is important to the couple who support local education, community arts and local social programs.

Klein officially retired from RSE employment in 2014 and now spends his time engaged in his many volunteer activities, the Yelm Community Blog and Yelm.com.

 

Social Activists Wanted

Klein is committed to being a government and community watchdog.

He said “people don’t go to the council meetings because of fear — fear of people, fear of speaking in public, fear of being on the record. Fear overcomes them. I am not afraid to go to the council and speak up to have a greater, in-depth understanding.  ... I’m most proud of giving the public the information for them to make their own decisions. I’m not here to sway the public to agree with me; we’re not going to agree. What I am most proud of is that I give the public a viewpoint with which they can make their own decisions.”

Looking forward he sees positive possibilities on the horizon.

“The city of Yelm and surroundings are on the threshold of dynamic change and all of the pieces are in place to create a synergy that will catapult Yelm into a marvelous future,” Klein said. “That requires — indeed demands — public participation to further the potentials in our midst.”

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