The mayor of Hoschton ignited a national controversy when The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported she’d allegedly said her city of less than 2,000 wasn’t ready for a black administrator.
She may have misread her constituents, according to emails sent to the city after the story broke.
“The citizens of Hoschton deserve better than the racist views that are apparently permeating City Hall,” wrote a city resident.
“The world is watching,” another emailer warned, punctuating the sentiment by typing “SHAME” 117 times.
The AJC filed an open records request for dozens of emails and a handful of Facebook messages directed at Hoschton before the city took down both its website and Facebook page following the AJC’s May 6 story. Without exception, the messages were critical of officials’ racially charged comments, with many calling on the mayor and a longtime councilman to resign.
According to two members of the City Council, in March Mayor Theresa Kenerly initially withheld the resume of an African-American applicant for the post of city administrator “because he is black, and the city isn’t ready for this.” The mayor issued a statement saying she had never made prejudiced comments regarding to applicant, but according to multiple sources, Kenerly apologized for the comment in a closed-door meeting of the council a week later and removed herself from an active role in the hiring process.
In defending the mayor, City Councilman Jim Cleveland said the mayor was “looking out” for the city and said he “understood where she was coming from.” He also said interracial marriage went against “Christian beliefs.”
“I have black friends, I hired black people,” he said. “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.”
Cleveland, who has served on the council for a decade, walked back those comments in subsequent interviews, saying he is has grown more racially tolerant over the years. However, he said he still believed interracial relationships “can create problems” and the races should remain “pure.”
Because city officials do not list their emails on the official Hoschton web page, most of the emails were sent to staff, including interim city administrator Justin Kilgore. Kilgore said he has not seen the mayor since an abbreviated meeting a week ago.
“That doesn’t mean she hasn’t been there,” he said. “Like most mayors, she comes in and signs what she needs to sign and comes to the meetings.”
Kilgore, who is the city’s code enforcement officer, said the Hoschton’s non-elected staff is just trying to keep the city running while the controversy rages.
“I don’t know what to tell you about it,” Kilgore said. “We are trying to do our work.”
It hasn’t been easy. Along with emails calling city officials racist and threatening boycotts, city officials also received requests for interviews from numerous media outlets, including NBC News, the Washington Post and Yahoo! News. The city even cancelled a car show scheduled for last weekend.
“It’s a pretty popular event, but some citizens were concerned about their safety,” Kilgore said.
One email claimed to represent an activist group in Atlanta and threatened to bring 3,000 protesters “to descend upon your city to protest the outdated, harmful, hateful and disturbing language spewed by these city officials!”
City officials said last week they had no permit requests for a protest of any size, except for a candlelight vigil held last week organized by local ministers. The emailer did not respond to a request for comment from the AJC.