The mayor and a councilor from a small Georgian town near Gwinnett County faced numerous requests to resign on Monday amid the aftermath of comments about a black job seeker.
An investigation of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, published on Monday, found that Hoschton's mayor, Theresa Kenerly, did not consider the candidate a municipal administrator because he was black, according to documents and interviews. She would have told a colleague on the board that Hoschton – a predominantly white community of about 2,000 people – "is not ready for that."
While being interviewed about this controversy, Hoschton City Councilman Jim Cleveland created his own statement that interracial marriage was against his "Christian beliefs" and made his "blood boil."
The conviction by Kenerly and Cleveland came from across the political spectrum and across the Atlanta metropolitan area on Monday – and culminated with a fellow councilman urging them to withdraw during a brief but tense city council meeting that drew 75 people. Several residents threatened the two with recall elections.
"Their conduct is reprehensible," said Councilwoman Susan Powers. "They have no business continuing to lead this city."
Many on the train depot reformed for the Monday night packed council meeting agreed. There was no period of public comment, but there was a blast when Kenerly moved quickly to end the 15-minute meeting.
"You do not represent our community and I have not moved here," said Shantwan Austin, a Negro who moved to Hoschton with his family two years ago.
Kenerly did not address the controversy during the council meeting, which was secured by at least four armed sheriffs, and she escaped reporters afterwards. The mayor issued a statement saying she does not remember making the March comments that two of her colleagues reported to the city attorney.
Although the mayor did not comment directly on the calls for his dismissal, Cleveland made it clear on Monday he would not give up without a fight.
He said he was disgraced by a resident who followed him through the parking lot after the meeting, the councilman reduced his controversial comments by answering, "Why, why do not I believe in interracial marriages?"
Cleveland then said he welcomed the recall election that some were threatening.
"That's the only way you're going to get me out," he said.
"I'm not racist," Cleveland said before heading out in his truck. "They do not know how much we work for this city, I put 10 years and I did not take a cent in salary or anything else, just my love of the city.
Kelly Winebarger, 38, started waving signs of cars passing near Hoschton precinct on Monday morning, hours before the scheduled council meeting.
A piece of cardboard said, "Hoschton will not tolerate racism." The other asked Kenerly and Cleveland to resign.
"I can not sit down and let people think that's how everyone is here," she said.
Beyond outside the City Hall, reaction to Kenerly's comments and Cleveland's quotes to AJC was quick.
On its website, conservative commentator Erick Erickson asked Kenerly to resign.
"What is clear is that if the story is true, and it seems like the story is true, the mayor of Hoschton must resign immediately," he wrote.
In another post, he urged Christians to challenge Cleveland's comments about interracial marriage. "Christians in the United States need to talk about this," he wrote.
Edward Ahmed Mitchell, executive director of the Georgia section of the American-Islamic Relations Council, also condemned the comments.
"Racism has no place in the speech of any city government, much less in its hiring decisions. Both Mayor Kenerly and Councilman Cleveland must apologize, resign and meet with affected community members to grow as human beings, "he said in a statement.
Katie Griffin, president of the Jackson County Republican Party, condemned the comments. She praised Powers and fellow councilwoman Hope Weeks, who serve in the county GOP, to clarify the situation.
"These comments do not reflect our county or our party. Thank you, Hope and Susan, for fighting racism, "Griffin wrote.
In a statement, Jackson County Democrat Chairman Pete Fuller said he was "once again ashamed and ashamed by our elected local leaders regarding their racial attitudes."
Fuller called Kenerly "unfit for work."
"Their actions do not reflect the shared values of this county and are shameful," he said.
Former Hoschton mayor Erma Denney, who served in the 2009-2012 post, called Kenerly and Cleveland "outliers" and their "abhorrent" comments.
"Her" belief system "is inherently flawed and has no place in our society," she said. "Our community and our country must condemn it in the strongest terms to overcome that gloomy place that has been allowed to cultivate under the current leadership."
Hoschton and most of Jackson County are represented in the General Assembly by State Representative Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, who made national news in 2016 when, in an interview with the AJC, he defended the Ku Klux Klan as "not much a racist thing , but a vigilante thing to keep law and order. "
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