Officials in a North Carolina town have decided not to take any action after the police chief, the entire department and two town clerks stepped down in protest of the hiring of the new town manager.
Justine Jones was hired on June 2 to manage the small town of 2,000 people southeast of Raleigh. Less than seven weeks later, Kenly police chief Josh Gibson announced on Facebook that he and all the full-time officers in the department would be leaving.
Gibson did not go into details about what led to the decision, but he said the new manager created a hostile environment.
“I have put in my 2 weeks notice along with the whole police dept.,” Gibson wrote. “The new manager has created an environment I do not feel we can perform our duties and services to the community.”
The town council held a closed-door meeting on July 22, a day after the chief’s social media announcement. The town’s five full-time police officers are also departing, leaving just three part-time officers. Gibson, who resigns officially on Aug. 3, said he would reconsider if Jones is fired.
Jones was handpicked out of 30 candidates and has a 16-year public service career. She worked “progressively responsible positions” with local governments in Minnesota, Virginia, South Carolina and North Carolina, according to a press release announcing her appointment.
Jones, who is Black, sued a county she worked for in South Carolina for gender, disability and racial discrimination. She was the manager of research and an assistant director for Richland County and filed a lawsuit after she was fired in March 2015. Jones said she faced “hostile” treatment by county leaders and her supervisor and retaliation for being a whistleblower, reports show. The lawsuit was later dismissed.
Gibson also sent Jones a resignation letter, noting his 21 years with the police department. Reports show Gibson was appointed police chief in 2006. He said the agency has made “substantial progress” that he “hoped to continue,” but he could not see that happening with Jones overseeing the town.
Amid these developments, the county sheriff has said his deputies would step in to provide public safety services to Kenly residents.
“I will be there for the people of Kenly, and they can rest assured they will have deputies patrolling the streets,” said Johnston County sheriff Steve Bizzel. “We’re stepping up and stepping out, and as Johnston County and the sheriff’s office, we’re going to be there for our people and the citizens. They may be the citizens of the town of Kenly, but they’re still citizens of the county of Johnston, also.”
Kenly mayor Tooie Hales said they decided to leave things as is for now, but he said the town might hold another meeting the following week. No additional meeting has been scheduled as of Tuesday afternoon.
“So, we are where we were,” Hales said. “The town still has a patrol, and we still have police coverage.”