Theresa Kenerly is the mayor of a Georgia city who is under fire after her fellow city council members said she rejected a job candidate because he is black. Kenerly, who has been the mayor of Hoschton since 2007, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution she doesn’t remember making the statement and denies making any statement that suggests “prejudice,” but she apologized and was removed from the hiring process for the city administrator job.
Kenerly pulled the resume of Keith Henry from a packet of four candidates and told a City Council member she did it, “because he is black, and the city isn’t ready for this,” the Journal-Constitution reports. The statement was made during a closed-door session of the City Council on March 4, according to documents obtained by the newspaper and statements from city council members and other officials.
Council Member Jim Cleveland added to the controversy with comments to the Journal-Constitution defending Kenerly. He told the newspaper that Kenerly was “looking out” for Henry because the city is mostly white. He called the city a “predominantly white community” that does things differently.
“I understood where she was coming from. I understand Theresa saying that, simply because we’re not Atlanta. Things are different here than they are 50 miles down the road,” he told the newspaper. “I don’t know how they would take it if we selected a black administrator. She might have been right.”
Cleveland added, “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. 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.”
The city of Hoschton is located in Jackson County, Georgia, about 50 miles north of Atlanta. According to the 2010 census, Hoschton has a population of 1,377, and is 93 percent white and 4.85 percent black. According to the Journal-Constitution, Hoschton is expected to see major growth, with the upcoming construction of thousands of new homes.
Here’s what you need to know about Hoschton Mayor Theresa Kenerly:
1. Kenerly Gave a ‘Tearful’ Apology at a Closed Meeting, but a Council Member Says ‘She Shouldn’t Be Apologizing to Us, but to the Person She Harmed & the City’
Keith Henry, a Houston, Texas, resident, was one of four candidates for the open city administrator position in Hoschton, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. During an executive session at the Hoschton City Council’s March 4, Mayor Theresa Kenerly was overheard making the comments to another council member, the newspaper reports. Council Member Hope Weeks said the comments were repeated to her in the parking lot after the meeting, according to documents obtained by the Journal-Constitution.
“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 a document. Weeks and another council member, Susan Powers, reported the incident to city attorney Thomas Mitchell. “Both of us were just appalled, so we thought we had to do something to stop it,” Powers told the newspaper.
Weeks issued a statement about the incident:
Mr. Henry was a very professional and qualified candidate who was a finalist for the position of city administrator before withdrawing to accept another position. I am thankful for the opportunity to serve the citizens of Hoschton, but this has been one of the most challenging seasons of my life.
According to the Journal-Constitution, Mitchell struck a deal with the city council members where Kenerly would remove herself from the hiring process, but continue to attend interviews and meetings, while not participating. Mitchell also warned the council member stop discussing the issue in emails.
Powers wrote in a document obtained by the Journal-Constitution, “Since she corrupted this entire process by trying to shield the application of Mr. Henry from Council members and then making the comment to the effect that while he is qualified he should not be considered because he is black and the city is not ready for this, she should not be a part of this hiring process. I am appalled that in 2019 an applicant would not be hired based solely on the color of their skin.”
Powers and Weeks are both Republicans and are active in the Jackson County Republican Party.
“As the Chair of the Jackson County Republican Party, I’m infuriated at what I just read. However, I’m so proud of my Treasurer, Hope Weeks and our 9th District Secretary, Susan Powers, for taking a stand,” Katie Griffin wrote on Facebook. “These comments do not reflect our county or our party. Thank you, Hope and Susan, for fighting against racism.”
Kenerly could not be reached for comment by Heavy. Cleveland and the other city council members also did not respond to requests for comment. Kenerly told the Journal-Constitution in a statement, “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.”
As the Journal-Constitution points out, racial discrimination in hiring has been against federal law since the 1964 Civil Rights Act. And Hoschton also has a city code that reads, “There shall be no discrimination exercised because of race, national origin, color, religion, creed, age, sex … All personnel actions shall be based solely on individual merit and fitness.”
Henry told the newspaper he didn’t detect bias on the part of Kenerly during a phone interview, but wouldn’t be surprised if there was. “It comes with the territory. If you live in America as a minority you can’t be naïve that it is the reality that you face,” he told the Journal-Constitution. Henry withdrew his name from consideration from the job after the March meeting, the newspaper reports.
2. She Was First Elected to the City Council in 2007, Saying She Ran Because She ‘Doesn’t Want to See That Little Town Change’
Theresa Kenerly was first elected to the Hoschston City Council in 2007. Kenerly had no prior political experience. She told the Gainesville Times ahead of that election, “I love this little town. And that’s one reason I ran for council, because I don’t want to see that little town change.”
Kenerly became interim mayor in 2012 and was elected to the position on a full-time basis at a special election in 2013. Kenerly has helped oversee the growth of the Hoschton community while in office, including a development by Kolter Homes that will include about 2,600 houses, including a “a gated, 55-and-older neighborhood, a “regular” neighborhood with townhomes and detached homes, and 400,000 square-feet of commercial space,” according to WDUN radio.
“We’re excited for Kolter … to be here, excited about something so nice coming to the city of Hoschton and excited now that we are 1,463 acres larger,” Kenerly told the radio station in 2018. “It’s a good quality growth. This is going to be something nice. This is something that should bring nice people to the city, and make the quality of life around here even better. I like being a bedroom community.”
The city of Hoschton has a council made up of a mayor and four council members, who are elected to four-year terms. Kenerly was re-elected in 2017. Cleveland was also re-elected in 2017. Kenerly has run unopposed since she won the 2007 election.
3. Kenerly Works as a Real Estate Agent in the Hoschton Area & Has Also Worked as a Hairdresser
Theresa Kenerly is a real estate agent and owns her own company, Moonlight Realty, which she has operated since 1995. According to the Gainesville Times, Kenerly has also worked as a hairdresser. She is a graduate of Berkmar High School and Gwinnett Technical College.
Kenerly lived for a time in Gwinnett County, Georgia, and moved to Hoschton in 2007 just before running for office for the first time.
Both Hope Weeks and Susan Powers, told The Jackson Herald they think Hoschton and Cleveland should resign.
“If (Kenerly) loves Hoschton as much as she says she does, she will,” Powers told the newspaper. “I believe if they resign that we will move forward. But as long as they’re in those two seats, we can’t do that.”
4. She Has 2 Children & 5 Grandchildren
Theresa Kenerly, 62, and her family have owned businesses and property in Hoschton and the local area, according to her father’s obituary. Kennerly is divorced and was married twice. She has two children and at least five grandchildren.
Kenerly’s family is well known in Hoschton and the surrounding community. Theresa Kenerly’s parents, Tom Kenerly and Mary Ann Kenerly, owned businesses and land in the city, including a 14,600-square-foot office building named the T.M. Kenerly Building. They purchased a 286-farm in Hoschton in 2002 and Theresa Kenerly had previously livered there.
Kenerly deleted her Facebook page after it was bombarded with angry comments about her statements. On Twitter, Kenerly wrote in her bio, “Love people, love to laugh, work hard, play hard, enjoy LIFE and most of all LOVE GOD with all my heart……….”
5. Kenerly Was the Campaign Treasurer for Her Cousin, Who Pleaded Guilty to Taking Bribes From Developers While He Was a Gwinnett County Commissioner
While Theresa Kenerly did not hold office before running for city council in Hoschton, she was involved in campaigns. Kenerly worked as the chairwoman and treasurer for all four Gwinnett County Commissioner campaigns her cousin, Kevin Kenerly, ran.
Kevin Kenerly resigned from office in August 2014 and pleaded guilty to a bribery charge, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was accused of accepting $1 million in bribes from developers while in office. He was sentenced to 10 years of probation and maintained his innocence, saying he took the plea deal because of his wife’s failing health.
Theresa Kenerly, then known as Theresa Dodd, was not accused of any criminal wrongdoing. But she was named as being involved in land deals related to the scandal, according to the Journal-Constitution.
Theresa Kenerly defended her cousin prior to his guilty plea, telling the Journal-Constitution, “He has nothing to hide and he is going to tell all.” She added, “I have watched him the last 16 years give and give and give. And it breaks my heart to know that in his last three months, he’s just being destroyed.”