Georgia Mayor Accused of Saying City Is ‘Not Ready’ for Black Leadership

The mayor of a Georgia town is being asked to resign after she was accused of saying that the town is not ready for a Black administrator. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported that Hoschton Mayor Theresa Kenerly allegedly told a city council member that she would not consider Councilman Keith Henry as one of the four finalists for a city administrator position “because he is Black, and the city isn’t ready for this.”

In documents obtained by the publication, Councilwoman Hope Weeks wrote that she heard the comments during a council session on March 4. Weeks said Kenerly repeated the comments to her in the parking lot following the meeting. “She proceeded to tell me that the candidate was real good, but he was Black and we don’t have a big Black population and she just didn’t think Hoschton was ready for that,” Weeks wrote in the documents obtained by the publication.

Weeks reportedly told fellow Councilwoman Susan Powers, and both women decided to go to City Attorney Thomas Mitchell to handle the matter, according to the outlet. Hoschton is a small town located in Jackson County and has 1,646 residents according to 2017 census data. Eighty percent of residents in the small community are white. Henry said Kenerly did not come off as racist during their phone interview but said he was unsurprised about her comments.

“It comes with the territory,” Henry told the newspaper. “If you live in America as a minority you can’t be naïve that it is the reality that you face.” The North Star reached out to Kenerly for comment but did not hear back in time for publication. In a statement to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the mayor denied making the statements. “I do not recall making the statement attributed to me regarding any applicant for the City Administrator position, and I deny that I made any statement that suggest (sic) prejudice,” Kenerly said.

City Councilman Jim Cleveland defended the mayor in his statement to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, claiming that Kenerly was “looking out” for Henry because of the lack of minority residents in the town. She reportedly apologized during an executive session in March. “I was there for that,” Cleveland told the publication. “She cried. She had tears in her eyes. It was in my opinion a very sincere apology.”

Some have called for Kenerly to resign. In a statement, the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ (CAIR) Georgia chapter encouraged Kenerly and Cleveland to apologize to the community and resign from their positions.

"Rejecting a qualified African American candidate because of the very fact that he is African American is as illegal as it is immoral,” CAIR Executive Director Edward Ahmed Mitchell said. "This is 2019, not 1969. Racism has no place in the discourse of any city government, much less its hiring decisions. Both Mayor Kenerly and Councilman Cleveland should apologize, resign, and meet with impacted community members in order to grow as human beings."

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.