Story of black town manger being fired after police force walks out gets more complicated

An entire North Carolina police force quit after a black woman took over as town manager not because the woman was black, but because she’d allegedly behaved like a power-hungry dictator.

As originally reported back in July, six Kenly Police Department officers, including former chief Josh Gibson, and two town administrators quit after Justine Jones, a black woman, took over as town manager in June.

The story quickly went viral, with race-baiters nationwide automatically accusing the six officers and two administrators of having quit because they’re racist.

But the officers who quit say that was never the case. Speaking with The News & Observer, one officer, former Lt. Jason Tedder, explained.

“Tedder said the main reason the officers quit was because they feared Jones would fire them. The officers, mainly Gibson, did not agree with new requirements and changes Jones wanted in the department,” the N&O reported Thursday.

“He said Jones would require calls or emails to make appointments to see her and that Gibson would get ‘crazy write ups’ for things like being late or stopping to talk with business owners while on duty.”

Ideally, Tedder said, everybody would have been able to sit down together and work things out. But unfortunately, that just wasn’t an option with Jones.

“When you’ve got a problem, the very first thing you do is sit people down and say, ‘Hey, this isn’t going right, how do we fix this?’ None of that ever happened,” he said.

And so, because that never happened, the eight quit in the hopes their voices would be heard.

“We hoped that with all of us plus the Town Clerk of 31 years, that somebody might listen,” Tedder explained.

And listen they did. In response to the officers’ resignations, the Kenly Town Council launched an investigation. Strangely enough, however, the investigation turned up nothing to justify the officers’ complaints.

“The findings didn’t really justify [claims of] a toxic environment,” Kenly Mayor Tooie Hales explained to local station WTVD.

The Kenly Town Council nevertheless chose to ax Jones this week for not being fit for the job because of other unnamed factors.

“[O]ur decision to terminate the contract is not solely based on the investigation, but there are a lot of other factors, and we had to look for the best way to move forward for the town,” Hales said.

“Jones is expected to finish the week as manager and will receive a severance package of about $50,000, which is half of her salary plus benefits,” according to the N&O.

Jones and her supporters are not happy with the outcome. And as far as they’re concerned, this entire debacle is indeed rooted in racism, according to station WRAL.

“This brings tears to my eyes not because I’m sad. What happened wasn’t right. It shouldn’t have happened, but what I am heartened by the most is everybody here, and the people who aren’t here who said, ‘Thank you for doing what you did. Thank you for standing when a lot of people wouldn’t have,'” Jones said during a “Justice for Jeanine” rally Friday evening.

She’s mulling suing the town to “make sure no other town manager, especially one who looks like me, is treated this way again.”

Hoke County Commissioner Allen Thomas and moderator Les Long also believe race was a factor.

“You see, Black folks have been hearing we weren’t a good fit all our lives,” Thomas said at Friday’s rally.

“How many of you work in what can be considered a hostile environment?” Long added.

Tedder for his part takes issue with people having chosen to “jump on that [the racism] bandwagon.”

“The only reason racism still exists is because the old people still talk about it. It’s just like when they had the Town Council meeting: most of them were people of color, and they supported us. It hurt me that it went to [race] because it was nothing like that,” he told the N&O.

Though on the other hand, the fact that the Town Council failed to uncover evidence of a toxic work environment suggests otherwise, according to local resident Courtney Hamilton.

“I feel like the members who voted against [Jones] were probably under pressure from the community to get rid of her even though she’s done nothing wrong. It didn’t surprise me, but at the same time it’s disheartening,” she told the paper.

That being said, for the time being, the town’s focus is on finding a new police chief, new police officers, and a new town manager.

“We’re charged with doing what’s best for the town and we felt like we needed a new blank slate to start over and get things going in a positive direction,” Hales said.

“You have to be very careful when you’re dealing with personnel issues but the Town is doing the best it can to work and rebuild the trust of its citizens but we’ve got to make some positive things happen. … We’re working feverishly.”

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Vivek Saxena

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