HOLLY HILL – A pastor is calling on Holly Hill’s police department to diversify its force.

“The optics of this police department tonight is disgraceful,” the Rev. Gralin Nix-Hampton said during a Holly Hill Town Council meeting held on Jan. 9.

“To be representing a majority African American town, to have an all-white police department, does not show any intentionality about diversity. … It shows terrible optics,” he said.

Some members in the audience applauded.

“Now it’s my rebuttal,” Holly Hill Mayor Billy Chavis said.

“So whenever you find us minority members who want to join the police department because of the optics that is around the police department and the badge, we will gladly hire anyone,” Chavis said.

“So therefore, if anyone – that’s a minority – does not want to be a police officer because of the optics, reverend, you’re not going to find any,” Chavis said.

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“Mayor, thank you for the invitation, but it’s the mayor’s job and if I was sitting in your spot, I am sure I would find diversity,” Nix-Hampton said.

Holly Hill resident Diane Wright said, “Rev. Hampton has already asked my question, but I wanted to know why there’s no Black people inside the police department.”

“Ms. Wright, that is correctly right,” Chavis said.

Turning to Holly Hill Police Chief Josh Detter, Chavis asked, “How many applicants have we had that have been a minority?”

Detter said there was one recently.

Wright said, “Everything on the force is white.”

Holly Hill Councilman David Barber said, “If they don’t apply, we can’t hire them.”

Wright countered, “They might be applying. Y’all just don’t want to hire them.”

Eutawville Mayor Brandon Weatherford was also in attendance and addressed the topic.

“It’s not a white or Black thing,” Weatherford said.

“Oh yes it is,” Nix-Hampton said.

“No, it’s not,” Weatherford said. “It may be in some areas, but I’m going to tell you right now, in the Town of Eutawville, it’s not that way.”

Some members of the audience laughed.

“We have a white police chief and we have a white officer, but we also, under me, had the first Black police chief ever. Under me. He’s no longer with us, but we gave him an opportunity. It’s not a white or Black thing,” Weatherford said.

Town employee Shelia Williams also spoke about the topic.

“As human beings, as the community, we can move forward and stop pointing fingers and using this color card,” she said.

“There are so many blended families now, Black and white don’t mean nothing nowadays,” she added.

“That’s not true,” Nix-Hampton said.

The Holly Hill Police Department has had Black officers in the past.

According to the 2020 U.S. Census, the town of Holly Hill has 1,298 residents. About 52 percent of the population identifies as Black and 43 percent of the population identifies as white.

In other business:

• Resident Kate Copsey raised concerns about two buildings downtown with broken windows. She also mentioned that it is the administrative department’s responsibility to address technology issues that arise during meetings, not the police department.

Chavis noted that Gayle Austin, of the town’s codes enforcement department, is working with property owners to get those areas cleaned up.

He also explained that the town, in the past, decided to let the Orangeburg County Codes Enforcement division handle such issues in the town.

He noted, however, that the town is trying take back that responsibility.

“The county is the one who holds all of the strings for codes enforcement, while we’re slowly pulling the tentacles out of Orangeburg County in our codes enforcement,” he said.

Second reading of an ordinance to address that issue will be heard at the Feb. 6 town council meeting, he said.

• Barber said it’s taking a while for the new police vehicles to get outfitted for service, but they should be ready in coming weeks.

• Sharon Wade, of the Holly Hill Christmas Festival committee, noted that the fund balance is $2,081.05 for the festival.

• Resident Beverly Wiggins asked about replacing outdoor electrical outlets in a downtown area where the Potpourri Garden Club planted holly trees two years ago.

Chavis said the town has plans to apply for a streetscape grant through the S.C. Department of Transportation in April to address that issue.

“Just bear with us as we try to get all of the poles replaced and all of the new lighting and plugs replaced. The whole downtown area should be transforming here with the new developments in the neighborhood and the developers are the ones who are going to give us the capability of doing a lot of revitalization to Gilmore Park, Folk Park and the downtown area,” Chavis said.

• Diane Bergen, of the town’s board of zoning appeals, said this month’s meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 23, at the Dantzler building in Gilmore Park.

The board typically holds monthly meetings on the third Mondays, but due to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Jan. 16, the meeting was moved to Jan. 23.

Contact the writer: mbrown@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5545. Follow on Twitter: @MRBrownTandD

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