The Republican mayor of Hoschton, Georgia, Theresa Kenerly, allegedly withdrew a candidate from consideration for city administrator because he was black. Kenerly told a City Council member that she pulled Keith Henry’s resume from the finalists “because he is black, and the city isn’t ready for this.”
An AJC investigation found that the hiring process in Hoschton is a damaged and racist process. Kenerly initially said that she couldn’t talk about matters from an executive session. “I can’t say I said it or not said it.” Later on, she disputed the allegation.
“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,” she said.
Keith Henry, who was interviewed by Kenerly over the phone, was not surprised by the bias from the small southern town. He said, “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.”
It is against federal law to racially discriminate in the hiring process, according to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Hoschton’s city code 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.”
Councilwoman Hope Weeks, who overheard the mayor’s comments, confided in Councilwoman Susan Powers. The two of them decided to consult city attorney Thomas Mitchell. A deal was reportedly made between Mitchell and the city’s five elected officials. Kenerly would be allowed to attend, but not participate, in the rest of the interviews for the hiring process.
Jim Cleveland, a local contractor who has been serving on the council for ten years, said he ranked Henry last in a list of the finalists because he did not come in for an interview and he does not like to hire people over the phone. Although Cleveland said race was not an issue in his decision, he shared his beliefs about race.
“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,” he said. “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.”
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