KENLY, N.C. – A North Carolina town manager has been fired after cops and other city employees walked off the job in July due to what they called a hostile work environment.
Kenly Police Chief Josh Gibson and all five full-time officers (down from eight) resigned in July from the small town police department in North Carolina. They said there was a hostile work environment that was created by the newly hired town manager, Justine Jones. Two town clerks also resigned at the same time.
That left the municipality of about 2,400 residents with three part-time officers to run the department, with backup from the local sheriff’s office, Law Officer reported at the time.
Gibson said in his resignation letter that the town of Kenly had made “substantial progress that we had hoped to continue.” However, he no longer believed that progress was possible with Jones at the helm.
Resignation letters obtained by WRAL News confirmed that employees cited a “hostile,” “toxic” and “stressful” work environment since Jones was hired, something publicly disclosed by Gibson.
“The new [town manager] has created an environment I do not feel we can perform our duties and services to the community,” Gibson said in a Facebook statement that has since been deleted.
After having more than a month to mull over their dilemma, the Kenly Town Council voted 3-2 Tuesday during a special session to terminate Jones’ contract. She will likely finish out the rest of her duties this week, The Sun News reported.
Mayor Tooie Hales said an investigation didn’t find a toxic work environment. Nevertheless, Jones was terminated because it was the “best way to move forward for the town.”
Kenly has recently been relying on 24-hour patrols from the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office.
It was unclear if Gibson, who had been the police chief for 21 years, or any of the former officers will be reinstated.
According to the town website, positions for the police chief and utility clerk remain vacant. The town clerk is filled by an interim employee.
Jones previously worked for Richland County, South Carolina as manager of research and was an assistant director. However, her employment ended acrimoniously when she was terminated. She sued the county claiming racial discrimination after she was fired, WRAL reported.
In the lawsuit, Jones alleges “hostile” treatment by Richland County leaders and her supervisor and retaliation after reporting acts of alleged misconduct. She claims in the lawsuit that she was not compensated appropriately and was also treated disparately due to illness.
She was terminated more than seven years ago, on March 30, 2015. The lawsuit was later voluntarily dismissed, yet court records do not reveal a reason, according to the news outlet.
Jones, who possesses two Master’s degrees, has bounced around in public service for 16 years. She has held positions in local governments in Minnesota, Virginia, South Carolina and North Carolina.
After getting terminated from her position Richland County she was self-employed at her own consulting company before being hired in Kenly on June 2, 2022.