The entire police department in Kenly, North Carolina, announced their resignation, citing a “toxic” and “hostile” work environment coming less than two months after the town hired a new town manager, Justine Jones, a Black woman.
According to a report in NewsOne, elected officials from the town of about 2,000 residents have gone silent on a plan for law enforcement moving forward. The July 20 mass resignation of the department’s police chief, four full-time officers, and two town clerks, who are all white, have led many critics to question whether race was at the core of the department’s sudden collapse.
Jones, who has worked for 16 years in local government in Minnesota, Virginia, South and North Carolina, was selected to be town manager after a “nationwide search” of 30 candidates, according to Kenly’s press release.
She began the job on June 2.
Kenly is 36% Black, 20% Hispanic, and 36% non-Hispanic white.
The resignation letter delivered by Chief Josh Gibson, directed toward Jones, said he had been pleased with the progress his department had made in the past three years, but the “hostile” work environment that Jones produced made it impossible for progress to continue. Gibson, a 21-year police veteran, has not expanded on the alleged details, citing legal concerns, but added that he would consider returning to work if Jones were fired.
“I have put in my [two] weeks notice along with the whole police department,” Gibson shared on Facebook, reiterating his sentiments on his personal social media page last Wednesday. “The new manager has created an environment I do not feel we can perform our duties and services to the community.”
Two town clerks and other officers cited “toxic,” “hostile,” and “stressful” work conditions in other resignation letters obtained by WRAL.
No one listed as department employees expanded on the alleged working conditions.
Jones as town manager, was responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the local government. She would manage internal affairs and plan the city budget, which includes the policing budget, for approval by a city council. While a town manager and mayor have similar duties, a mayor is elected, whereas a town manager is appointed.
“They don’t want to be led by anybody Black; that’s Kenly,” Cynthia Kirby, a longtime Kenly resident, who is also Black, told the News & Observer late last week. “They’re always harassing Black people. It’s racial.”
“One of my questions is, what happened between May and July? It takes time upon getting a new boss,” Kenly resident Denise Bennett said to the local paper. “We just want to ensure that the process is fair, and this ultimatum of her-versus-him as a police chief is not a good process.”
A no decision on how to move forward was determined after the Kenly Town Council held a closed-door meeting, and Mayor Herbert Louis “Tooie” Hales II has yet to comment on the situation publicly.
There is another emergency meeting that Mayor Hales will implement either this Wednesday or Thursday, which will be open to the public.