Bill Clayton, the Rapid City council member charged with making racist comments, publicly apologized Tuesday night to a black television reporter for questioning her citizenship and suggesting she be deported to Kenya during a telephone interview.
He also said in his apology at the city council meeting that he was unaware of Taisha Walker’s race when he made the statements during the interview about an August 2012 vote on property taxes.
"I certainly did not know her skin color. That would not justify any racial remarks," Clayton said.
On Tuesday night, the city council voted 6-0 to release an investigative report compiled by the city attorney’s office into comments Clayton made to Walker and about fellow Council Member Charity Doyle.
Clayton himself voted to release it. Doyle abstained since she was named in one of the complaints.
Three council members who initially asked to be named as co-defendants with Clayton in the investigation were not present at Tuesday’s meeting. Ron Sasso was in New Jersey planning the funeral for his father. John Roberts was at the National Association of Home Builders trade show in Las Vegas. Steve Laurenti had a work conflict, according to Mayor Sam Kooiker.
The council voted to release an unredacted version of the report without any prior discussion. Clayton’s apology came after the vote.
The investigation was initiated after two complaints were made against Clayton. One complaint was made by Walker and the other was about comments Clayton allegedly directed at Doyle at a luncheon of the Wingnuts, a local political group. Clayton has denied making those comments.
Walker said Clayton asked her, "Should we deport you back to Kenya with Obama?" and "Are you even American; are you American?" while being interviewed by Walker on Aug. 29, 2012. Clayton questioned the precise accuracy of the quote and its context.
Clayton said Tuesday that he does not watch KOTA news, had not met Walker before the incident and didn't know she was black. The incident happened when Walker called Clayton to ask about a contentious tax increase the council was considering at the time.
When Walker asked Clayton how he planned to vote, he responded by asking how she planned to vote in the upcoming presidential election. Walker said she didn't plan to vote since she's a journalist, which led to Clayton’s questions about her patriotism and the assertion that maybe she should be sent to Kenya, the home of President Barack Obama’s father.
Clayton said he believed "birther" positions — which assert the president is from Kenya, not the United States — at the time, but his views have since changed.
"I understand our president is our president and a citizen of the United States," he said.
The five-month-long investigation process has divided city council members since the investigation went public, and an executive session, or closed-door meeting, was held to review the city attorney’s report on the charges.
Clayton took responsibility Tuesday for the firestorm the issue has caused.
"I caused this distraction," he said.