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Entire N.C. police department resigns, citing ‘toxic’ work environment

“There are decisions being made that jeopardize my safety and make me question what the future will hold for a Kenly police officer,” a now-resigned officer said

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By Mark Schultz, Kristen Johnson, Anna Johnson
The News & Observer (Raleigh)

KENLY, N.C. — The Kenly police force, the town clerk and the town’s utility clerk resigned Wednesday in a conflict with the town manager in the small Johnston County community.

“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 on 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.

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.

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.

There has been no official statement yet from the town’s mayor or council members.

©2022 Raleigh News & Observer. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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