Words are easy. Action is much harder and requires a rare level of commitment to a cause.
But in Hoschton during 2019, one group backed up their words with action. Using shoe-leather to gather names and hiring a lawyer to pursue their case, the Hoschton recall committee did something exceedingly rare in Georgia — take a recall effort beyond the courts and to a call for a vote.
In the end, the group's efforts led to the resignations of Hoschton Mayor Theresa Kenerly and mayor pro tem Jim Cleveland. While the scheduled January recall election has been canceled following the resignations, that likely wouldn't have happened without the pressure of an impending recall vote.
Because of their impact on the community's political dynamics, and the legal precedent it set in the state for future recall movements, the Hoschton recall committee is The Jackson Herald's Newsmaker of the Year for 2019.
BACKGROUND: The recall movement was born out of frustration in August following several months of intense controversy and disputes in the small town.
Kenerly came under fire in May after a fellow council member said she did not include the resume of a candidate for city administrator because he is black and she didn’t know if the city was “ready for that.” In a following news article, Cleveland defended Kenerly and added his views against interracial relationships.
The town was quickly labeled as being "racist" and the news went national. The town received hate mail and nasty phone calls from all across the country.
Locally, the backlash was also strong and vocal. Many local citizens called for Kenerly and Cleveland to resign. Churches held prayer vigils about the situation. The leaders of the local Republican and Democratic parties joined hands to call for the two officials to resign.
Over the summer, efforts by citizens to have a city ethics hearing were unsuccessful. That led to the creation of a formal recall movement in August, a group led by Mary Morrison.
After gathering the necessary number of signatures to begin the recall process, Cleveland and Kenerly petitioned the court to show sufficient cause for the recall. That is a routine part of most recall efforts and more often than not, the judge refuses to allow the recall to move forward.
But in the Hoschton case, the judge did allow the recall to move forward. Kenerly faced three recall counts: That she had pulled a job resume from consideration due to race; that she had failed to create a city ethics commission; and that she had not bid out a project for the city over $5,000. One count went forward against Cleveland: That he had not created a city ethics commission.
Kenerly appealed the judge's decision, but lost that appeal.
Another round of gathering signatures soon began and in November, the recall group had a sufficient number to force a recall vote. That election was set for Jan. 14, 2020.
But in early December, that changed. First, Cleveland resigned, then a few days later, Kenerly also tendered her resignation, moderating her last council meeting by phone. An election to fill the two seats has been called for March 24.
Other impacts: While the recall movement led to those two resignations, it was also a factor in the town's November elections. Because of the controversy created by the recall movement, the city elected two new council members, ousting one council member who came under fire for having sat on the sidelines during the controversy. Those political changes subsequently led to the ouster of the town's administrator.