The small town of Kenly, North Carolina is in a bit of a pickle. This week, the town’s police chief and all three full-time police officers (I told you it was a small town) turned in their two-week notice of resignation. Two other village officials resigned as well. This would leave the town with only three part-time officers, assuming they don’t wind up resigning as well. All of them cited the same reason. They find the working environment to be intolerable under the new Town Manager who was only appointed to her position last month. The manager, Justine Jones, did not answer any requests for comment from local reporters, but it doesn’t sound like she’ll be in line for the employee of the month award. (The Hill)
The town of Kenly, N.C., will soon be without full-time police officers. All of the department’s officers have announced their intentions to quit — and now, residents have a lot of questions about what led to the resignations.
Kenly police chief Josh Gibson tells Nexstar’s WNCN he and the department’s four full-time officers put in their two weeks’ notice because of the alleged environment created by new town manager Justine Jones, who started in June. Gibson declined an interview because of legal concerns.
Jones told WNCN she said couldn’t discuss the situation and deferred to town attorney Chip Hewett.
This short segment from the local news channel contains interviews with a few residents who all seem to like the outgoing police chief and are concerned about what will happen when they don’t have any local law enforcement.
The county Sheriff’s Department is saying that they will still be responding to calls from Kenly, but they don’t have any plans to increase regular patrols in the town. This has some residents and business owners concerned over the possibility that response times to 911 calls will be longer. The Sheriff agrees that it’s a possibility.
All of the departing officials echoed the Chief of Police in citing Justine Jones as the reason they are leaving. None seemed to cite any specifics beyond saying that there was too much tension and stress, creating a “hostile work environment” under Jones’ leadership.
But who is Justine Jones? That’s a question that MEAWW.com looked into and discovered what little there is to know. Jones has reportedly only ever worked in local government service positions. Her last employer, Richland County, South Carolina, fired her for unknown reasons. She attempted to sue the county for race and gender discrimination a couple of months later but the suit was dismissed. That was back in 2015, so it’s unclear what she’s been doing since then. Prior to that she had worked for local government offices in Minnesota and Virginia.
Beyond that, not much seems to be known about her. But the move by the police department clearly appears to be an orchestrated effort to remove Jones from her position as Town Manager. In a post to social media, the Police Chief said that he would “consider returning to the police force” if Jones is removed from her position.
It just seems as if there must be more going on here under the surface. What is it about Jones and/or the policies she has put in place that would lead so many people in a tiny local government organization to walk away from their careers rather than continue working under her leadership? According to the report I linked above, Jones is a self-described “progressive.” Perhaps her style doesn’t fit in with a potentially more conservative culture in a small southern town? It’s hard to say, but we’ll put a bookmark on this story and revisit it if appropriate. They certainly have my curiousity aroused.