Kenly holds first council meeting since losing police force

ByJamiese Price via WTVD logo
Tuesday, August 9, 2022
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People who live in the small town showed up Monday for Kenly's first town council meeting since losing all its officers.

KENLY, N.C. (WTVD) -- The Town of Kenly is without a police department. Every officer has resigned from their position. The town is being patrolled by the Johnston County Sheriff's Office. Deputies responded to 113 calls of service since stepping in from Aug. 3-8.

People who live in the small town showed up Monday for the first town council meeting since losing all its officers. Residents came to the meeting with questions and concerns. Most of their comments to the council centered on public safety.

"We need a police presence all the time," expressed one man who also had additional concerns about drugs getting into town.

"We need someone in this town. We have the I-95 corridor and that's where drugs come back and forth, " he continued.

A resident who has lived in Kenly for 60 years said she's also concerned about safety. "I'm sorry they decided they needed to resign for whatever reason but the reason I don't think were good enough."

The former police chief Josh Gibson and other officers said they could no longer deal with what they described as a hostile work environment created by Town Manager Justine Jones who was hired in June.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Town of Kenly said it made the "prudent decision" to take no action regarding the Town Manager's employment status.

The town is split on where they stand. Suellen Pittman who moved to the area six years ago blamed Jones for the current state of the police department.

"What is the problem that they would want to leave a job they've been committed to in their town? This was not her town. She's a stranger from outside. To me that rings big alarm bells," said Pittman.

Others stood up for Jones. "I want to say I'm in support of her. Change is good. I just thank the council, also for being patient in our fears of change, but change is good," said one resident who also moved back to town.

An outside firm is investigating the allegations made against the town manager. Mayor Tooie Hales said the investigation will take another two weeks to complete. Town Attorney Chip Hewett is overseeing the investigation.

The results will be presented before the end of the month and the council has instructed the Attorney to call for a special meeting once the investigation results are available.

Some have questioned if race has played a part in the investigation. Jones is a Black woman. The former chief is a White man.

The mayor rejected those notions.

"I haven't seen anything that indicates this is a racial issue. There are a lot of moving parts and a lot of reasons things have happened," said Hales.

While the investigation runs its course, Hales is teaming up with Johnston County to establish a committee to help find a new police chief.

The committee will include District Attorney Susan Doyle and Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell.

Hales said there is no timetable on getting a chief in place. He wants to make sure they find the right person for the job.