Black North Carolina town manager is fired six weeks after entire police force of five white male cops resigned and blamed her for ‘toxic and hostile’ work environment
City officials for the town of Kenly voted 3-2 to oust Justine Jones Tuesday night, during an emergency meeting that followed a month-long investigation
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
They were joined by two town clerks who also accused Jones, a black woman, of creating a toxic work environment for the city employees
Council chairman later acknowledged the city employees who made the allegations, “really did not justify a toxic environment”
Our decision to terminate the contract was not based solely on [the weeks-long],investigation,” he acknowledged
“There were a lot of other factors, we had to look at the best way to move forward for the town”
The only two town residents were in attendance, both black women, appeared visibly upset by the turn of events, wondering, “The council chose her [Jones], unanimously from 30 applicants. What could have happened between those 36 or 37 days?”
“It was over for her [Jones] before she began,” they concluded
Following the firing, the Jones expressed sadness over being axed less than two months into her tenure
The entire police department of a North Carolina town have resigned in protest over the administrative style of a town manager whom they accused of creating a ‘hostile’ work environment for officers. A month after the mass exodus the city council has voted by a majority decision to terminate her contract.
City Council officials for the town of Kenly voted 3-2 to oust Town Manager Justine Jones Tuesday night, during an emergency meeting that followed
The firing was the culmination of a month-long investigation into allegations that the new Town Manager had fostered toxic work environment for city officials.
Kenly Town police chief of 20 years, Josh Gibson, and four other officers who comprise the entirety of town’s five-man police force resigned, citing a ‘hostile’ work environment created by the town’s newly elected manager.
The five law officers all white males, handed in their letters of resignation to both Jones and city council, early in August.
They were joined by two town clerks who also accused the manager – a black woman – of creating a toxic work environment for the city council office.
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. In this small close-knit community citizens, all know each other.
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 Chief 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 of roughly 2,000 residents, a better place.
‘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.’
Citing the investigation spearheaded by Town Attorney Chip Hewett, which found no evidence that she had created a hostile environment., Jones wrote: ‘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 further stated, ‘The decision to not communicate the entire story and publicly share the findings of the report is most unfortunate.’
The council member who chaired the emergency meeting, in an interview with local media after the night’s session said “Sometimes some things don’t fit well and we just didn’t feel that we were moving in the right direction.”
While he acknowledged that the city employees who made the allegations, “really did not justify a toxic environment,” he went further to say: “Again, so our decision to terminate the contract was not based solely on investigation,” he said.
There seemed to be unmentioned underground currents at play as he said, “But there were a lot of other factors, we had to look at the best way to move forward for the town.”
Opinions in the town are divided over the issue. The emergency meeting had only two town residents in attendance, both middle-aged black women who appeared visibly upset by the turn of events.
One of the ladies posed the question, “They chose her [Jones], unanimously from 30 applicants. What could have happened between those 36 or 37 days?”, she wondered.
When the job was advertised Jones was the council’s unanimous choice, beating out 30 other candidates. She resumed duties on June 2. One month later the own’s police chief resigned along with the four other members of the department leaving the town with virtually no law enforcement.
The second attendee equally upset by what they considered railroading of Jones who “was the council’s unanimous choice” just weeks ago.
“It was over for her [Jones] before she began,” she concluded.
Jones, a middle-aged black woman, sued her previous employer, Richland County, South Carolina, for gender and racial discrimination after her firing. Jones according to the lawsuit, was manager of research and an assistant director for Richland County.
During her tenure with the county, Jones 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 [unspecified] illness. That suit was subsequently 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 this year. Nearly eight years after she was fired, Jones would go on to beat 30 other candidates. She resumed on her new post on June 2.
At the time of her hiring, the town touted the acquisition in a press release.
However, Police Chief Josh Gibson and some other town staffers did not share such enthusiasm.
Within weeks seven city workers handed in their strongly worded resignation letters.
‘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 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.’
County clerks Christy Thomas and Sharon Evans, also 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.’
All five officers wrote they were fed up with the ‘hostile’ work environment cited Jones. as the problem
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.
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. However,
Gibson has said he would consider returning if the Jones, was removed from her position.
He has yet to comment on Jones’ termination.