The entire police department in Kenly, North Carolina, resigned last week, citing a ‘hostile’ work environment less than two months after Justine Jones, a black woman, started her role as the new superintendent municipal of the city.
Local business owner Joy Wright said the community is concerned about what the collective police retirement means for the city’s future. Wright also said she was mostly frustrated because the city hadn’t kept residents updated on developments.
“It’s just weird, and for us not knowing what to expect,” Wright said. “Are we going to have the police? Are we going to have a city manager?”
Following an emergency closed-door meeting last week, Kenly City Council issued a statement this week saying: ‘The prudent course of action is to find out what happened and not take rash decisions.”
Alan “Chip” Hewett, Kenly’s city attorney, told CNN he will oversee an investigation by an outside firm beginning next week when all of the resignations take effect. Technically, the police chief and officers are still on duty until early next week. The police chief’s resignation is effective Tuesday.
CNN obtained eight resignation letters in total, consisting of longtime police chief Josh Gibson, four full-time officers, one part-time officer and two city clerks. The letters are similar in language, with most referring to a stressful work environment, though they provide no details of the allegedly “hostile” workplace, nor explicitly blame Jones.
However, Gibson blamed Jones for the resignation — both in a Facebook post that has since been made private and in an exclusive interview with Fox News.
Gibson told Fox News host Laura Ingraham that Jones had written to him several times during his short stint on the job.
“She came in, first of all, to start giving us tasks and all these projects all the time. And unfortunately we’re – we only have five officers and I was working double shifts at the time. to try to keep the officers safe and be there with the officers in case something happened,” said Gibson, who claimed the manager wrote to him about being late if he wasn’t seated at his office, etc. “She wrote to me about going to businesses and talking with She wrote to me about talking to board members I’ve known for 20 years.
CNN has not seen any of the disciplinary records referenced by Gibson and therefore cannot verify the accounts. The city said it was unable to turn over documents requested by CNN this week at this time.
Jones started as Kenly’s city manager on June 2, according to a city announcement that notes she was unanimously approved by council and touts her 16 years of work experience in “managerial positions.” progressive accountability with local governments” in several states.
Residents are split on whether it’s a ‘race issue’
Kenly resident Brittney Hinnant said she felt the situation was a “race issue” given that Jones is black, while the entire Kenly Police Department is white. Hinnant also said she did not believe the police department was supportive of black people and often harassed black residents.
“I feel like they don’t want a black woman on top of them, basically managing them or telling them what to do,” Hinnant said.
Jones told CNN that since this is a personnel matter, she cannot comment on police resignations.
Other community members say they believe there is no racial component to the situation due to the fact that the former city manager was a black man. Some residents also cautioned against jumping to conclusions, saying they’ve always had a good relationship with the police department.
Wright, owner of Granny Barn, an embroidery and vinyl gift shop a stone’s throw from City Hall, said she doesn’t think the situation is a “black-on-white thing.”
“I’ve never seen that as a problem,” she said when asked if she thought race played a role in the situation.
“I think there are too many people jumping to conclusions, we really don’t know what’s going on. I know I’ve never met this chief executive, I’ve never had any problems with the police , so I really don’t know what the dynamics could have led to those kinds of decisions,” Wright said.
Michelle Dawes, who is from Kenly and works for the city, told CNN she thought the situation was complicated. She said it’s possible that race and gender played a role in the resignations, but issues of liability are really central.
“I have never had any personal problems with [Police Chief Josh] Gibson, but as a former city employee, I know how it works there,” Dawes said. “I knew right away, it’s someone new. She doesn’t know what I call them, “non-compliance rules.” Basically, when she came in and was hired, she pushed the bear and made him responsible.”
The Johnston County Sheriff’s Office, which already serves Kenly, will increase its presence in the town now that the police department is effectively disbanded.
Denise Bennett, from Kenly, said the timing of everything makes her suspicious, adding that the situation appears to be more about power than solving work-related issues. Bennett also said some residents said the resignations weren’t about racism, but she doesn’t think race-related issues can be completely dismissed as an explanation.
“When I realized how little time she was on the job and the drastic decision that was made, it just didn’t work in my head,” Bennett said. “With the fact that there’s so much you can do if they think you have a nightmare supervisor, there’s so much that can be done. But for an entire police force to make the choice to quit when he agreed to protect and serve, rather than using everything in front of them to change the situation…it just didn’t make sense to me.”
CNN’s Wesley Bruer contributed to this report.