Posted on September 2, 2022

Black North Carolina Town Manager Is Fired Six Weeks After Entire Police Force of Five White Cops Resigned

Alex Hammer, Daily Mail, September 2, 2022

The North Carolina town whose entire police force resigned in protest of a town manager whom they said created a ‘hostile’ work environment for officers has voted to terminate her contract less than a month after the mass exodus.

City Council officials for the town of Kenly voted 3-2 to oust Justine Jones Tuesday night, during an emergency meeting that followed a monthlong investigation into the department’s allegations.

The walkout transpired early last month, and saw the small force’s five cops, including its chief of 20 years, hand in their resignation letters to both Jones and city council.

They were joined by two town clerks who also accused the manager – a progressive black woman who unsuccessfully sued her previous employer for gender and racial discrimination – of creating a toxic work environment for the city employees.

Following the resignations, Kenly residents were split on whether the matter was a ‘race issue’ given that Jones is Black – in contrast to the small-town police department, which is entirely white.

In the seven resignation letters, neither the clerks nor the five officers specified what stress or hostility spurred them to quit – but town Chief Josh Gibson did tell inquiring reporters at the time that he was frustrated that the department was understaffed, and that it added to the officers’ and workers’ stress.

Following Jones’ firing, the jilted town manager expressed sadness over being axed less than two months into her tenure, and insisted that during that time she made the town – which has roughly 2,000 residents – a better place.

It is not yet clear if the police who vacated the department will be returning to their posts now that Jones no longer is employed by the city – one of the core demands made before they left their posts.

‘Having been selected for the position from 30 other candidates,’ Jones wrote in a statement, ‘I believe I was selected because my core principles clearly spoke to who I am as a leader and this same management philosophy guides me in performing my job professionally, with integrity, transparency, loyalty, fairness and accountability.’

The nixed city official then went on to touch on the investigation spearheaded by Town Attorney Chip Hewett, which found no evidence that Jones created a hostile environment.

‘While all related information is certainly a matter of public concern, the allegations made against me were timely and thoroughly vetted by independent sources and there was no such finding of wrong doing by me or my office,’ Jones wrote.

‘The decision to not communicate the entire story and publicly share the findings of the report is most unfortunate.’

Jones, a middle-aged black woman, sued her previous employer – Richland County, South Carolina – for gender and racial discrimination after her firing. The suit says she worked as manager of research and was an assistant director.

During her tenure with the county, Jones herself alleged ‘hostile’ treatment by and retaliation for reporting bad behavior by other city workers and that she was not paid fairly and was treated differently due to illness.

The suit did not specify what illness she was referring to.

Those accusations came after she had been terminated, on March 30, 2015, and her suit was subsequently dismissed.

Court records do not reveal on what grounds the case was dismissed.

Jones was selected by the Kenly town council after a ‘nationwide search’ of 30 candidates, officials touted in a June press release last month.

She’s worked in public service for the past 16 years, all in local governments, in Minnesota, Virginia, South Carolina, and now North Carolina, and has since garnered a reputation as a woke progressive.

After being fired from her job in Richland County in 2015, she worked at her own consulting company before being sought out for her current position early last month.

She would go on to beat 30 other candidates, assuming her post on June 2.

At the time of her hiring – which came nearly eight years after she was fired – the town touted the acquisition in a press release.

Kenly Police Chief Josh Gibson, however, did not share such enthusiasm – when he and the six other city workers penned strongly worded letters to Jones giving their two-week notices.

‘In my 21 years at the Kenly Police Department we have seen ups and downs,’ Gibson wrote, addressing the note to both Jones and the town’s city council.

‘But, especially in the last three years, we have made substantial progress that we had hoped to continue.’

He went on: ‘However, due to the hostile work environment now present in the Town of Kenly, I do not believe progress is possible.

‘I am thankful to this community for having me as the longest running chief in Johnston County. I will truly miss them.’

Shortly after sending the note, Gibson shared his plans to leave the force on Facebook, saying that he did not know what was in store next for him after he leaves his longtime post in early August.

‘I have put in my 2 weeks notice along with the whole police dept. with the town of Kenly after 21 years of service,’ he wrote.

‘The new manager has created an environment I do not feel we can perform our duties and services to the community. I do not know what is next for me. I am letting the lord lead the way.’

‘I have loved this community,’ he continued, ‘It has become family and one of my greatest honors to serve. God bless you all.’

The post saw Gibson tag county clerks Christy Thomas and Sharon Evans, who said in their letters that were leaving their respective posts because they cannot work with the stress that Jones brings.

Neither the clerks nor the five officers specified what stress or hostility they were referring to, but Gibson did tell ABC11 that he was frustrated that the department was understaffed and that it added to the officers’ and workers’ stress.

He said: ‘It was just a lot of stress on a lot of us trying to maintain and keep coverage.

‘This is heartbreaking. The community has always been so tremendously so supportive of us.’

The other officers, Austin Hills, Jason Tedder, G.W. Strong, Darren K. Pate, all echoed their superior’s statements, saying they were fed up with the work environment created by Jones since her taking office less than two months ago.

Gibson has said he would consider returning to the police force if Jones was removed from her position. He has yet to comment on Jones’ termination.

Kenly is a small town – roughly 45 miles from Raleigh – that is about 55 percent white, with the rest of the 2,400 residents being predominantly black.

The community is small and subsequently close-knit, with citizens all knowing each other and each other’s business.