North Carolina police force resigns over new Black town manager 

Two months after Kenly hired Town Manager Justine Jones, all its officers quit, citing a hostile or stressful working environment.

The entire police force in the small town of Kenly, North Carolina, resigned last week, just months after the hiring of its Black town manager, citing a hostile or stressful working environment.

Justine Jones was selected after a nationwide search of 30 candidates. She comes to the town of approximately 2,000 people with 16 years of municipal government experience in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Minnesota. However, on Wednesday afternoon, two months after Jones was hired, Kenly’s police chief, four full-time officers and two town clerks quit in a mass resignation, some specifically naming Jones, according to The Raleigh News & Observer.

The entire police force in Kenly, North Carolina, resigned Wednesday, just months after the hiring of a Black town manager, citing a hostile or stressful working environment. (Photo: Screenshot/YouTube.com)

The Kenly Town Council held an emergency meeting before 50 area residents Friday night but has not announced its next steps after the resignation letters. Before the council meeting, some townspeople held their own closed-door session with Kenly Mayor Herbert Hales — from which reporters were restricted by Hales — in a local music venue.

Kenly resident Denise Bennett said she doesn’t believe that Jones, who started her job on June 2, has had the chance to build relationships yet.

“One of my questions is, what happened between May and July?” asked Bennett. “It takes time when you get a new boss. We just want to make sure that the process is fair, and this ultimatum of her versus him as a police chief is not a good process.”

Another resident, Christel McGowan, carried a sign outside of the meeting reading, “Save Kenly, Fire Town Manager.” She reportedly hopes that the Town Council will back the officers and dismiss Jones.

“They’ve been here over 20 years. This woman comes in and I have a lot to say, but I can’t,” McGowan noted. “She sued Virginia, she sued South Carolina and I wouldn’t doubt it if she sues us.” She added, “We don’t need to … let everybody walk out because this woman has a hard time managing, and that I know for a fact.” McGowan did not share details on what makes Jones a poor manager. 

Jones has two pending lawsuits against a previous employer for racial and gender discrimination after being fired in 2015, per the News & Observer and WRAL.

Other residents, among them longtime Kenly dweller Cynthia Kirby, say that the entire issue is racial because the officers who resigned are white men, and Jones is a Black woman.

“They don’t want to be led by anybody Black; that’s Kenly,” Kirby said. “They’re always harassing Black people. It’s racial. I hope this doesn’t end in her quitting because that’s not right. You can’t judge anybody because they make you do your job.”

In a statement, Sheriff Steve Bizzell said the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office will protect and serve Kenly as long as the town needs.

Heather Johnson told The News & Observer she wasn’t very concerned about safety because the small town “only has one officer on duty most of the time.”

“I’m hoping they can resolve this in a professional manner where whatever changes need to happen happen,” said Johnson, “and we can walk away as a community and with no hard feelings and with nobody dramatizing or with an agenda. We just want to be safe in Kenly.”

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