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Kenly Council mum on resignations

New Town Manager Justine Jones has been on the jon since June 3. Debbie Herrera | Johnstonian News

From staff reports

KENLY — After meeting behind closed doors on Friday, the Kenly Town Council said nothing about the resignations of the town’s full-time police force, town clerk and utilities clerk.

“No action will be done tonight,” Mayor Tooie Hales said after he welcomed the public into the council’s meeting room.

But Hales also said the council would continue talking about the resignations. “We will be setting up another special meeting, and prior notice will be given,” the mayor said. “It will likely be on Wednesday or Thursday.”


In a Facebook post on July 20, Kenly Police Chief Josh Gibson said he and his full-time officers had submitted their resignations. Also resigning, he said, were Town Clerk Sharon Evans and Utility Clerk Christy Thomas.

Gibson blamed Town Manager Justine Jones for the departures. “The new manager has created an environment (in which) I do not feel we can perform our duties and services to the community,” he said.

Reached by phone Thursday morning, Jones said she was “not a liberty to comment.”

“I’ve been directed to redirect any comments to our town attorney,” she said.

Chip Hewett of Hewett Law Group in Selma is the town’s attorney. He did not return a phone call seeking comment.

The new manager

A unanimous choice of the Kenly Town Council, Jones began work on June 3. Before coming to Kenly, she had worked for local governments in Minnesota, Virginia and the Carolinas. Jones began her municipal career as executive assistant to the city manager in Norfolk, Virginia. She later served as a management and budget analyst and as a department director.

“I welcome the challenge of overseeing the town’s operations, and I am looking forward to working with the mayor, Town Council and the talented and committed staff of Kenly,” Jones said in a statement the town released shortly before she began work.

She called the town’s employees a “dedicated team that possesses an extensive understanding of Kenly’s services.”

“Together, we will continue providing excellent services to our community,” Jones said.

In his Facebook post, Gibson said he did not know his next step. “I am letting the Lord lead the way,” he said. “I have loved this community; it has become family and one of my greatest honors to serve. God bless you all in Kenly.”

Success, controversy

Gibson joined the Kenly Police Department as a rookie in 2001 and worked as a K-9 handler, sergeant, temporary lieutenant and interim chief before being named to the top job on a permanent basis in April 2007.

In his first decade leading Kenly’s law enforcement efforts, Gibson employed a zero-tolerance approach to drug offenses that he credited with achieving a nearly 800% reduction in crime. Kenly saw reportable crimes plunge from about 4,000 a year in 2004 and 2005 to just 470 in 2013, Gibson told The Wilson Times for a February 2014 story. 

Gibson and a female police officer sued Kenly mayoral candidate Terry Ray Baker in 2017, accusing him of libel and defamation of character over a campaign news release Baker wrote and posted to social media. The plaintiffs dismissed the lawsuit after Baker lost the election, with Baker later describing the court filing as a frivolous claim intended to sabotage his chances of becoming mayor. 

The State Bureau of Investigation examined personnel issues at the Kenly Police Department after Gibson and District Attorney Susan Doyle requested a state investigation in September 2019. 

Less than a month later, the town of Kenly fired a police lieutenant after an investigation into his conduct that officials described as separate from the SBI’s inquiry. 

Agents’ findings in the state investigation were never made public.