CAYCE — Two weeks after a volunteer official resigned following allegations of racist comments, Cayce is preparing to investigate how widespread bigotry is among the city’s government.
Mayor Elise Partin expects the investigation to include interviews with members of the Cayce Historical Museum Commission where Marion Hutson served for over 20 years before resigning Nov. 12 after he was accused of saying Columbia did not need another "colored person" as mayor.
A Cayce employee reported Hutson’s racist remarks on the Columbia mayoral race, which he reportedly made Nov. 2 while campaigning for now-Councilman Hunter Sox. The council voted 3-2 to keep Hutson on the commission, but he resigned days later amid the controversy.
Now, another allegation has surfaced. During the city's Nov. 17 council meeting, Partin read an email from a resident alleging Hutson said there were “too many colored people” in positions of power in the city.
“Those types of comments are not who we are as a city, and we want to make sure that our citizens know that,” Partin told The Post and Courier. “If there is more, then we will tackle it head on. We'll come together as a community to take those steps together and hopefully be more cohesive than we were before.”
Partin said she interpreted the newest comment as a reference to Councilman James Jenkins and former Councilwoman Ann Bailey-Robinson, who are both Black. Sox, who is White, defeated Bailey-Robinson in the Nov. 2 election. Councilmen Sox, Phil Carter and Tim James have condemned Hutson’s comments.
City Attorney Danny Crowe will conduct the investigation, and he’s preparing different options for City Council. Partin wants the investigation to cover whether more city employees or residents have heard other offensive remarks from city officials.
Hutson has not denied publicly making the racist comments, and his resignation letter did not address them. He has not responded to several requests for comment including calls and visits to his home.
The debate over how to respond to Hutson’s racist comments has fractured a council that votes unanimously on nearly every issue. In the past two weeks, Partin and councilmen have disputed each other’s versions of events and blindsided each other — all in front of dozens of community members. Partin, who was first elected in 2008, has been on the losing side of two key votes.
Sox, who voted to keep Hutson on the commission, told The Post and Courier the council did not know before the Nov. 17 meeting that Partin planned to read the emailed statement, which was sent to the council days after the first allegation against Hutson surfaced.
Before Hutson resigned, City Council had scheduled a Nov. 17 vote on whether to investigate his comments. Partin read the emailed statement and asked the council to support her call for an investigation to determine whether Cayce has a larger cultural issue.
Her motion passed unanimously, even though James, who also voted to keep Hutson on the commission, said earlier in the meeting that he did not think an investigation was necessary after Hutson’s resignation. Carter, who voted to keep Hutson aboard, said he hoped the issue would end the night of the meeting.
Sox and Carter now say an investigation was the right thing to do.
“An investigation is important here, and I’m glad that we’re still pursuing an investigation,” Sox told The Post and Courier.
"We cannot simply close our ears and turn a blind eye," Carter said in a statement. "I believe this investigation into this matter is the correct method of doing due diligence, taking corrective steps if needed and then closing this chapter.”
While the City Council awaits a possible investigation into whether other Cayce officials have made offensive comments, Partin told the newspaper she remains concerned about the message the council is sending with its own recent actions.
Sox motioned at the Nov. 17 meeting to delay the appointments of Kelly Wuest, who ran against him in the Nov. 2 election, to the beautification foundation and Marcy Hayden, a member of the Pee Dee Indian Tribe, to the Museum Commission.
Sox said he wanted time for the City Council to evaluate its process for volunteer appointments. He denied his decision was motivated by the current applicants. Partin said the council was sending the wrong message by delaying these particular applicants, a former political opponent of Sox and a Native American person.
But Carter and James voted with Sox to postpone the appointments. That move came only a week after the three councilmen voted Nov. 9 to keep Hutson in his position, putting the mayor and Jenkins in the minority for a second time in one month.
Archie Moore, chairman of the Museum Commission, defended Hutson during the Nov. 17 meeting. Hutson, a former mail carrier, helped plan activities and exhibits at the museum, located next to City Hall on 12th Street, Moore said.
“In all the years that I have known him, I have never known Mr. Hutson to say nor do anything improper,” Moore told the council.
Moore, who spoke at the meeting before Partin read the newest allegation against Hutson, could not be reached for comment over the past week. Garrett Creasman, a member of the Museum Commission, declined to comment on his experience working with Hutson. Andy Thomas, a museum staffer, said he’d been directed not to speak to the media when reached for comment.
Charlita Earle, one of two Black members on the 11-member commission, joined the commission in August and said she didn’t know Hutson well.
Earle said she has seen Cayce residents commenting in Facebook groups that the city needs to move on. But, to Earle, not properly addressing this incident could leave a “black eye” on the city when it’s trying to attract new residents.
“We want the city of Cayce to be able to move on, but if the city of Cayce does not address things like that," she said, "you’re going to find yourself in this position again."