On December 14th, a months-long effort by Hoschton residents and neighbors culminated in Mayor Theresa Kenerly’s resignation. That resignation, and Jim Cleveland’s before it, followed the hard work of a population determined not to be nationally-known for tolerating racism.
I’m glad Mrs. Kenerly is now talking freely — we have heard repeatedly that she was legally prohibited from speaking — but I’m disappointed that The Herald did not check the facts behind some of her statements.
The public charges leveled against the former mayor, based on a job candidate removed from contention because Hoschton was not ready for a black city administrator, were more than allegations. These were official statements made against her by a fellow sworn public official, and later repeated in sworn testimony in front of a superior court judge.
Mrs. Kenerly says she would “swear on a stack of bibles” that this sworn account did not happen. However, she had that very opportunity when she challenged the recall efforts; instead, she sat stone silent as others repeated their testimony under threat of perjury.
Kenerly’s legal council did not debate the accuracy of this testimony. They accepted the statement as fact, and built their case on the mayor’s intent: The quote that ‘Hoschton wasn’t ready’ was just Kenerly making a judgement on the citizens there, and did not reflect her personal opinion. She in effect conceded that she took those actions and made that statement; but wait! It was because she thought the town was racist — not her!
Sitting in that courtroom, those in attendance watched as Judge Sweat explained: This was the same argument that segregationist shop owners used repeatedly in the 1960s to excuse racist practices. It was a bad argument then, and certainly poor rationale for the actions of a municipal official in 2019.
Kenerly continued that Judge Sweat had his mind made up; this is revisionist nonsense. Recall efforts rarely make it anywhere near the point of a vote: They either fail before the initial petition stage, or are swatted down in the intervening hearing.
From the best I can tell, only three mayoral recall efforts in Georgia have gone to a vote in the last 15 years. More have been dismissed by the Superior Court for lack of grounds than have been passed on to the second signature stage. Judges have shown that there is a high bar for approval, and organizers in Hoschton met that bar. Kenerly’s appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court was also denied. There was a solid legal basis for the recall.
As for her statement that Jim Cleveland’s statements complicated her situation — she’s right. His unfiltered intolerant rhetoric definitely amped up the news coverage. The "New South" has been trying to shed that backwoods racist image for decades and here Mr. Cleveland comes in like Archie Bunker.
While Kenerly throws Cleveland under the bus in this interview, this has not been the case in the intervening months. They voted as a block on all issues, and Mr. Cleveland’s court filings were shared with Mrs. Kenerly’s — literally the same documents with her name scratched out with a pen and his name written in. If I was that bothered by his statements, I personally wouldn’t let him cheat off of my notes.
The fact is, while Mr. Cleveland’s statements were more detrimental to the town’s image, Kenerly’s actions reflected the more insidious racism alive in many towns and businesses across the country. The U.S. clearly doesn’t tolerate in-your-face displays like Cleveland’s unprovoked regurgitation on interracial marriage. All of polite society condemns it, and then many feel they can check the box and claim that there is no longer racism in the U.S.
But employment data says differently. Multiple studies consistently show being a black person in America can negatively affect your chances of employment or promotion. A recent Harvard study rolls thru the statistical data across the country, but we can see a very vivid example in Hoschton. It just happened, right here, in 2019, and it has happened over multiple generations, leaving black America with much less generational wealth than the average white family.
This is the fight for hearts and minds we are still waging today and I’m glad that local people from all political affiliations were able in this instance to join together and right a huge wrong.
As we go forward, I hope our local elected leaders have all taken note: There is a coalition of citizens that just will not accept racism in our leaders anymore and an active majority will show up and organize in the face of such injustice in Jackson County, Georgia.