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County: NAACP calls for firings amid claims of racism
By Jim Hilley
Tensions remain high following accusations of rude and possibly racist behavior by Georgetown County Treasurer Allison Peteet. The allegations include that she verbally abused assistant auditor Jessie Duncan on several occasions and dismissed Sherrell Cruel from her job at the treasurer’s office without just cause.
Duncan was formerly Peteet’s superior at the auditor’s office and Cruel was reportedly fired for refusing to sign a form accepting probationary status for her employment. Both of the affected county employees are black. Peteet is white.
Marvin Neal, the local NAACP branch president, blasted the County Council this week for not taking action against the treasurer. “Change the policy or fire the policymaker,” Neal said, calling for the removal of County Administrator Sel Hemingway and the council’s help in having the governor remove Peteet from office.
Neal charged that Peteet had “totally disregarded the rights of county employees” by her actions.
“Georgetown County is still allowing blacks and people of color to be degraded by department heads,” he said. “Inmates have more rights than county employees.”
The Rev. Mitchell Adger, pastor of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, said he was addressing the council because Cruel is among his congregation members.
“We want to let the Georgetown County Commission know we are not going to let our treasurer treat our people rudely.”
Neal and Adger were accompanied by a large number of supporters who responded to a flier from Neal calling for a Rally for Justice at the meeting.
Neal said the allegations surfaced in July 2017, but the council has taken no action. “At least attempt to right the problem,” he said.
There is little the county, or voters can do about Peteet’s treatment of employees or visitors to her office, however.
Hemingway said that while the county has a handbook for employees which provides for grievance procedures, elected officials do not have to accept the policies in the handbook.
He said normally a complaint by county employees would be handled by a grievance committee and its recommendations would be sent to him as the county administrator for a final decision.
He said the treasurer could agree to follow guidelines in the handbook, but is not required to. Hemingway said he is not aware of Peteet agreeing to follow handbook procedures.
“This is not unique to Georgetown County,” Hemingway said.
John DeLoache, chief attorney for the S.C. Association of Counties, said elected officials can act independently of county administrations.
“The way the home rule law was configured back in the 1970s, elected officials have control over hiring and disciplining of county employees,” DeLoach said.
As far as the removal of an elected official, the only recourse for voters is to vote them out of office during the next election, he said.
There are provisions for the governor to remove elected officials, he said, but only if they are convicted of the crime of moral turpitude, which is not well defined.
The courts have ruled that criminal domestic violence, for instance, constitutes moral turpitude, he said, while driving while intoxicated does not.
Peteet was not available for comment.
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