A mayor of an overwhelmingly white city outside of Atlanta is facing calls to resign after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that she stopped considering a candidate for city manager because he is black, reportedly remarking to another city employee that “the city isn’t ready for this.”
According to records obtained the Journal-Constitution, Theresa Kenerly, the mayor of Hoschton, GA, a city of fewer than 2,000 people located 50 miles outside of Atlanta pulled Keith Henry’s application from a group of four finalists for the city manager job. During a closed-door meeting on March 4, Kenerly reportedly told city council member Hope Weeks that she disqualified Henry’s application “because he is black, and the city isn’t ready for this.”
Weeks repeated the comment back to Kenerly after 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 reportedly wrote on March 4, according to documents obtained by the newspaper.
She then went to another council member, Susan Powers, and together they escalated Kenerly’s comment to the city attorney. In emails obtained by the Journal-Constitution, the attorney, Thomas Mitchell, and the five council members agreed to allow Kenerly to attend interviews for the city manager position, the stipulation being that she wasn’t allowed to speak or ask questions in the interviews. In the emails, the attorney then implied that the counsel members should stop documenting their concerns via email.
Henry, who lives in Houston, told the Journal-Constitution that he didn’t detect bias from Kenerly during his phone interview, but said he wouldn’t be shocked if there had been.
“It comes with the territory,” Henry told the paper. “If you live in America as a minority you can’t be naïve that it is the reality that you face.”
Kenerly initially told the publication she “can’t say I said [the comment about Henry] or not said it,” but later said in a statement that she didn’t recall making the statement, and denied making any statement suggesting prejudice.
However, another council member, Jim Cleveland, said Kenerly tearfully apologized in another closed-door meeting on March 12, saying that she had been “looking out” for Henry by pulling his resume because of the city’s few minority residents. According to U.S. Census data, 201 people in the city are a race other than white.
Despite all this, Kenerly’s comments aren’t even the most shocking aspect of the Journal-Constitution story, even for excuses of small-town ignorance. From the publication, emphasis mine:
[Councilman] Cleveland described Hoschton as “a predominantly white community” not in accord with urban sensibilities about race.
“I don’t know how they would take it if we selected a black administrator. She might have been right,” he said.
While Cleveland said it was not an issue in his decision on whom to hire, he did share his beliefs about race.
“I’m a Christian and my Christian beliefs are you don’t do interracial marriage. That’s the way I was brought up and that’s the way I believe,” he said. “I have black friends, I hired black people. But when it comes to all this stuff you see on TV, when you see blacks and whites together, it makes my blood boil because that’s just not the way a Christian is supposed to live.”
But it was all apparently for naught: Shortly after the March 4 meeting, Henry withdrew his application for consideration, partially because the city wasn’t going to pay up-front for his transportation and room and board for his in-person interview, and instead promised to pay him back later.