Ousted Kenly town manager responds to her dismissal after only 3 months on the job

Akilah Davis Image
Thursday, September 1, 2022
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Reacting to her dismissal, Kenly Town Manager Justine Jones said it was "most unfortunate" that town officials chose not to disclose the full story.

KENLY, N.C. (WTVD) -- A day after the Town of Kenly voted to terminate her contract, Town Manager Justine Jones reacted to her dismissal.

"While all related information is certainly a matter of public concern, the allegations made against me were timely and thoroughly vetted by independent sources and there was no such finding of wrongdoing by me or my office," Jones said in a statement Wednesday. "The decision to not communicate the entire story and publicly share the findings of the report is most unfortunate."

In an emergency meeting Tuesday, the Town voted 3-2 to terminate her contract. Jones had been at the center of an independent investigation after the town's entire police force resigned on Aug. 2 and said there was a hostile working environment. Former Police Chief Josh Gibson blamed Jones for the toxic work environment.

Read Justine Jones' full letter here (.pdf opens in new window)

After Tuesday's vote, Kenly Mayor Tooie Hales reinforced what Jones would write, that the findings of the independent investigation "didn't really justify a toxic environment."

However, Hales said the decision to let Jones go was "not solely based on the investigation."

In a news release from the Town of Kenly, Jones beat out 29 other candidates for the job and was the council's unanimous choice. She started as town manager in June.

Jones planned to finish out the work week, Hales said.

"My goal as Town Manager was always to represent Kenly in the best possible manner and to ensure that all decisions and actions were carried out in the best interests of the Town," Jones wrote Wednesday. "Having been selected for the position from 30 other candidates, I believe I was selected because my core principles clearly spoke to who I am as a leader and this same management philosophy guides me in performing my job professionally, with integrity, transparency, loyalty, fairness and accountability every day."

Denise Bennett and her sister Annette Moore are homegrown Kenly natives. Bennett attended the council meeting Tuesday night and said they were not surprised by the outcome.

"As much as it's a wonderful, feel good, people like each other friendly Kenly, there is and has been a history of racism," Denise Bennett said.

Moore was one of the first African Americans to integrate the school system here.

"From the walk home from Kenly Elementary, people walking behind us calling us names and such," she recalled.

Census data shows there are nearly 1,500 people that call Kenly home. White residents make up the majority, followed by African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and American Indians.

Kenly resident Nancy Cates said there's no race problem here.

"I don't like the fact that they said that because I can call anyone of any color," said Cates.

She said she believes Kenly officers resigned because Jones was hired, which she believes created a toxic work environment. The investigation did not support that accusation.

"I'm glad she's gone. Shouldn't have been hired to start with," said Cates.

As for this small town east of the Triangle, some have a word for Jones.

"Do not internalize this. This had nothing to do with your competence or performance. You were never given a chance to do your job," said Bennett.

Jones would probably appreciate that sentiment. In her statement, she also wrote: "I am so appreciative to Kenly's open-minded residents who reserved judgment, town employees who stayed committed and remained focused without missing a beat, and my esteemed colleagues who inspired me. I urge each of you to keep doing great work and serving the needs of the public and Kenly. Although I was not able to accomplish all the goals in progress in the short time I served the Town, given my untimely departure, my commitment to leaving Kenly better than I found it is an accomplishment I will always be proud of. I continue to wish nothing but the best for Kenly."

Hales said this is a "clean slate" and they wouldn't consider hiring back Gibson or any of the former officers. And now the town is looking--again--for a town manager.