Mark Schultz, Kristen Johnson, Anna Johnson
The News & Observer (Raleigh)
The Kenly Town Council will hold an emergency meeting Friday night, after most of its police force, the town clerk and utility clerk resigned in a conflict with the town manager.
“I have put in my 2 weeks notice along with the whole police dept. Sharon Evans and Christy Thomas with the town of Kenly after 21 years of service,” Police Chief Josh Gibson wrote in a public Facebook post Wednesday evening.
“The new manager has created an environment I do not feel we can perform our duties and services to the community,” he continued. “I do not know what is next for me. I am letting the lord lead the way.. I have loved this community.. it has become family and one of my greatest honors to serve.. God bless you all in Kenly.”
Kenly is a town of about 2,400 people in Johnston and Wilson counties about 45 miles southeast of Raleigh.
Justine Jones was hired as the town manager on June 2, out of 30 candidates in a national search, according to a town news release. She previously worked in local governments in Minnesota, Virginia, South Carolina and North Carolina.
Jones told The News & Observer on Thursday morning she could not comment on the resignations.
Friday’s meeting begins at 7 p.m., according to an announcement on the town’s website Thursday night.
Chief says department understaffed
Gibson told ABC11, The News & Observer’s media partner, that the Police Department was understaffed and stressed. The department’s website says the town has seven officers.
WRAL reported that the police force normally has eight officers but recently had only five. Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell told the station his office will make sure Kenly residents are protected.
This is the first time Bizzell has had to deal with the resignation of an entire police department, he said in an interview with The News & Observer.
“The Board of [County] Commissioners and I both agree that the number one priority of the government is public safety,” Bizzell said. “We are going to be there for the people of Kenly if and when they need law enforcement.”
Bizzell, who has been in the role for 24 years, said he learned of the news through social media and released a statement Wednesday night saying “we will not allow the people of Kenly to go without law enforcement protection.”
He also said the State Highway Patrol in Johnston County will be available to investigate accidents within Kenly city limits.
Allegations of a ‘toxic’ work environment
In resignation letters obtained by WRAL, Gibson, Evans, Thomas, and four resigning members of the Kenly Police Department wrote that their decisions were based on a “hostile,” “toxic” and stressful work environment.
Evans, the town clerk, wrote she can “no longer work under the stress.”
“I believe progress is highly unlikely,” wrote Jason Tedder, a lieutenant with the Police Department.
G.W. Strong, a patrol officer, said in his resignation letter “there are decisions being made that jeopardize my safety and make me question what the future will hold for a Kenly Police Officer.”
After four years as the utility clerk, Thomas said “the work area is very hostile and I will not let myself be around that kind of atmosphere.”
Chip Hewett, the town’s attorney, said in an interview with The N&O that the resignation of Gibson, Thomas and Evans was “unexpected.”
‘It was surprising,’ says town attorney
“We don’t know very much about it,” Hewett said. “It was surprising as to what happened and really the magnitude of the resignation.”
He said the town is figuring out how to move forward and that he learned of the resignations Wednesday night through social media and a call from a reporter.
Neither the mayor of Kenly nor the other five council members responded to requests from The N&O for comment.