• Ana Clara Alvez

An entire North Carolina police department resigned after a black woman was named town manager

After Justine Jones was named city manager, the entire Kenly, North Carolina police force resigned. Some residents say the move was motivated because "they don't want to be led by someone black."


Image of Justine Jones via Houston Defender


Justine Jones was named city manager for Kenly after a national search of 30 candidates, according to a press release from the city. She began work on June 2nd and had previously worked for local governments in Virginia, Minnesota, and South Carolina.


The mass resignation took place on July 20th, with participants including the department's chief of police, four full-time officers, and two municipal secretaries — All white. The dismissal came less than two months after the city hired a new city manager, a black woman, evoking questions about whether race was and/or is a factor in the department's sudden collapse.


Police Chief Josh Gibson, in a resignation letter, addressed to Jones, said he was satisfied with the progress his department had made over the past three years, but the "hostile" work environment Jones allegedly produced made it impossible to continue progress. Gibson, a 21-year police veteran, did not specify details of the allegation but added that he would consider returning to work if Jones was fired.


He reinforced these feelings on his personal Facebook page: “The new manager has created an environment where I feel we cannot perform our duties and service to the community.” In the other resignation letters obtained by WRAL, the two city secretaries and other officials cited the working conditions as “toxic”, “hostile” and “stressful”.


None of the department's employees provided details as to what Jones did to create these alleged conditions.


Image of resignation letter via WRAL News


A long-time resident of Kenly, Cynthia Kirby, declared it a racial issue to the News & Observer late last week. “They don't want to be led by anyone Black, that's Kenly (...) They are always harassing black people. It's racial.”


In Jones' new role, her functions and responsibilities include overseeing the day-to-day operations of Kenly's local government. A city manager manages internal affairs and plans the city budget, which includes policing, for approval by a city council.


Image via NewsObserver.com


The former chief of police also cited the lack of staff as a challenge that eventually led to his quitting. The department had been operating with just five full-time officers in recent months, while it was supposed to have eight full-time officers.


Kenly City Council held a private meeting on July 22nd, two days after department members resigned, to discuss the rapid changes — This did not result in any change.


Supporters of the Kenly PD argue that the city should side with those who have been there for longer. “We have a great police department. And, Jones is not for our police department,” said resident Christel McGowan.


In an interview with Nexstar's WNCN, the city's attorney Chip Hewett said the current situation is unlike anything he has seen in more than 20 years of representing cities. Hewett said: “I've seen layoffs of politicians, mayors, and councilors. I've seen employees quit. (...) I've never seen a layoff where it's an entire department."


Mayor Hales said another emergency meeting will take place this week and be open to the public.


The Johnston County Sheriff's Office has already said it will answer calls in Kenly. And to ease residents' tension, Sheriff Steve Bizzell also told The Hill, “I will assign deputies to patrol the streets to ensure public safety if and when necessary.”

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