The past few weeks have been a parade of embarrassments for local public officials.
Let’s start with Cottageville Mayor Bert Reeves, who has been stopped twice for speeding since March. In one incident, he was clocked doing 103 mph in a 55 mph zone. Then he was caught on tape scolding a police officer for not writing more tickets to generate revenue for the town, long regarded as a speed trap.
Last week, the mayor flipped his pickup truck, nearly killing himself, in a single-vehicle accident. The highway patrol has charged him with driving under the influence; Reeves denies the charge.
In a fit of road rage two days later, Mount Pleasant Town Councilman Bobby Utsey waylaid a 42-year-old female motorist and punched her twice in the face in front of her daughter. When he was pulled over by a Mount Pleasant police officer a few minutes later, he twice asked the officer, “Do you know who I am?” The officer didn’t give a damn. Utsey was charged with DUI and aggravated assault.
And then there’s the ongoing saga of Wallace Scarborough, the James Island state representative who is not living in his district and who was arrested on the night of July 15 for confronting two South Carolina Electric & Gas linemen in his backyard and firing off a round from his 9 mm Glock pistol, when the SCE&G boys were simply trying to check the power lines after a storm.
Scarborough spent the night in jail, charged with assault with intent to kill. The charge was immediately dropped, but the case left more questions than answers. Scarborough’s attorney, John Graham Altman III, said his client fired the Glock into the deck where he was standing, yet police were not able to find a bullet hole or a shell casing, according to a union official who represents the SCE&G workers in the matter. At various times in the heat of the brief media storm, Altman said Scarborough was sitting in his dining room doing paperwork when he heard someone in his backyard. Another time Scarborough said he was watching a movie in the living room. Which was it, Wallace?
And what about his choice of attorneys? Until the end of the last legislative session, Altman was a state representative in his own right and the subject of several of my columns. There are plenty of decent and honorable attorneys Scarborough could have gone to, but he turned to the man who made his reputation as a demagogue and a bully, a race-baiter, and a gay-basher. Wallace, you are judged by the people you associate with.
Now Scarborough’s bizarre behavior on the night of July 15 has led to an investigation into other aspects of his life, the report of which appears in this issue of City Paper. Affidavits filed by Scarborough’s estranged wife in divorce proceedings at Charleston County Courthouse show the District 115 representative to be having a long-term affair with Rep. Catherine C. Ceips of Beaufort.
This sounds like a bad made-for-television movie, but it gets worse. Scarborough and Ceips both supported the proposed “defense of marriage” amendment to the state constitution. This is the amendment that would ban gay marriage in an effort to preserve the institution of marriage and keep it sacred. Apparently, Scarborough and Ceips did not consider their adultery to be a threat to the sacred institution of marriage. According to affidavits and other sources, Scarborough and Ceips were quite indiscreet in their affair, pushing their “pro-family” agenda while they were cavorting around South Carolina. Statehouse sources confirm that there were rampant rumors about the two legislators.
Was the Republican leadership aware of their behavior? Did they call the lovers in for a word of prayer about their unseemly behavior, about the sacredness of their own respective marriages? Or was this just business as usual in a club that would make most citizens gasp at its cynicism?
Scarborough’s behavior seems particularly reprehensible. At least Ceips brings no children into this squalid affair. Scarborough has two sons still at home. And his behavior around Columbia comes across as boorish and immature. Reports hold that Scarborough likes to “party hearty” when he is out of sight of family and constituents. He pads around the Statehouse in loafers without socks, apparently thinking he’s at the beach house. This perpetual frat boy brings neither dignity nor honor to his office.
The Republican Party will no doubt continue to push its preposterous “family values” program, but Scarborough and Ceips give it the lie. Morality begins with personal behavior, not with laws and constitutional amendments.