The entire police department in Kenly, North Carolina, resigned, citing a “toxic” and “hostile” work environment, less than two months after the town hired Justine Jones, a Black woman.
According to a report in NewsOne, elected officials in the town of about 2,000 people have remained silent on a future plan for law enforcement. The sudden resignation of the department’s police chief, four full-time officers, and two town clerks on July 20 has prompted many critics to question whether race was at the root of the department’s demise.
Jones, who has worked in local government for 16 years in Minnesota, Virginia, South and North Carolina, was chosen after a “nationwide search” of 30 candidates, according to Kenly’s press release.
She started on June 2nd.
Kenly is 36% African-American, 20% Hispanic, and 36% non-Hispanic white.
Chief Josh Gibson’s resignation letter to Jones stated that while he was pleased with the progress his department had made over the last three years, the “hostile” work environment created by Jones made it impossible for progress to continue. Gibson, a 21-year police veteran, has declined to comment on the alleged details, citing legal concerns, but has stated that if Jones is fired, he would consider returning to work.
“I have given my [two] weeks notice, as has the entire police department,” Gibson said on Facebook, reiterating his sentiments from last Wednesday. “The new manager has created an environment in which I do not believe we can perform our duties and provide community services.”
In other resignation letters obtained by WRAL, two town clerks and other officers cited “toxic,” “hostile,” and “stressful” working conditions.
No one on the list of department employees elaborated on the alleged working conditions.
Jones, as town manager, was in charge of the day-to-day operations of the local government. She would be in charge of internal affairs as well as planning the city budget, which includes the policing budget, for approval by the city council. While both the mayor and the town manager have similar responsibilities, the mayor is elected, whereas the town manager is appointed.
“They don’t want to be led by anyone Black; that’s Kenly,” Cynthia Kirby, a longtime Kenly resident and fellow Black resident, told the News & Observer late last week. “They are constantly harassing Black people.” It’s a racial issue.”
“One of my concerns is what occurred between May and July. “Getting a new boss takes time,” Kenly resident Denise Bennett told the local paper. “All we want is for the process to be fair, and this ultimatum of her-versus-him as a police chief is not a good process.”
After a closed-door meeting, the Kenly Town Council made no decision on how to proceed, and Mayor Herbert Louis “Tooie” Hales II has yet to publicly comment on the situation.
Mayor Hales will hold another emergency meeting this Wednesday or Thursday, which will be open to the public.