State Watch

Georgia mayor accused of withholding job candidate’s application because he is black

The mayor of a Georgia town is accused of keeping an applicant for a city job out of contention because the man was black, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reported.

Theresa Kenerly, the mayor of the predominantly white town of Hoschton, allegedly told a city council member that she had removed Keith Henry from consideration among four finalists for city administrator “because he is black, and the city isn’t ready for this,” according to the Journal-Constitution.

{mosads}Henry told the newspaper he sat for a phone interview with Kenerly and did not perceive any racial bias during his interaction with her but said he was unsurprised.

“It comes with the territory,” he 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 city code bans “discrimination exercised because of race, national origin, color, religion, creed, age, sex” and says “all personnel actions shall be based solely on individual merit and fitness.” Additionally, the 1964 Civil Rights Act bans racial discrimination in hiring.

Kenerly initially declined to comment to the paper, claiming she could not discuss matters that occurred in executive session, saying: “I can’t say I said it or not said it.”

But she later said in a statement that she denies making any prejudicial 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 prejudice,” Kenerly said in a statement to the Journal-Constitution.

In addition to reportedly making the comments during a closed-door council session on March 4, Councilwoman Hope Weeks said the mayor repeated them in the parking lot following the meeting.

The paper cited a document released by the city in response to an open records request, in which Weeks wrote of Kenerly: “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 and a colleague reportedly took the matter to city attorney Thomas Mitchell, who warned them not to put their concerns about discrimination in writing, according to the newspaper.

“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,” Weeks later said in a statement. “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.”

Hoschton City Councilman Jim Cleveland defended Kenerly, and said that she made an emotional apology in another executive session, calling into question the mayor’s claims that she did not make the comments. 

“I was there for that,” Cleveland told the Journal-Constitution. “She cried. She had tears in her eyes. It was in my opinion a very sincere apology.”

“I don’t know how they would take it if we selected a black administrator,” he added. “She might have been right.”

Henry, who lives in Texas, ultimately withdrew his application, telling the paper it was partly because the city expected him to pay for travel and lodging for an in-person interview, saying it would reimburse him at a later date.

The city did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.


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