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Justine Jones hired as Spring Lake town manager

The former Kenly town manager was appointed on a 3-2 vote by the Board of Aldermen.


SPRING LAKE — The Spring Lake Board of Aldermen on Monday night voted 3-2 to hire Justine Jones as the next town manager.

Jones made news over the summer when she was fired as the town manager in the town of Kenly after the entire full-time police force including the police chief resigned citing a hostile work environment.

Before the board made its decision, members went into closed session citing the N.C. general statute for personnel. They met for 45 minutes before coming out to appoint an acting town manager and to hire the new permanent town manager.

Fire Chief Jason Williams was appointed as the acting town manager with a unanimous vote of the board.

Alderwoman Adrian Thompson made the motion to appoint Jones as permanent town manager effective Oct. 24 on conditional approval of the contract by the Local Government Commission, the Board of Aldermen and the town attorney and acceptance of the contract terms by Jones.

The vote was 3-2. Voting for Jones were Mayor Pro Tem Robin Chadwick, Alderwoman Sona Cooper and Thompson. Voting against were Alderman Marvin Lackman and Alderman Raul Palacios.

Jones was not at the meeting.

Palacios said there were better-qualified candidates.

“I’m against this position, this appointment,’’ Palacios said. “I feel like there was someone who was more qualified, had the experience that the town needs at this time.”

After the meeting, Lackman said the aldermen drew from their past experiences, research, knowledge and gut instincts to come to their decision, which was made individually.

“We differed on who we thought was the most qualified, but as a board, a decision was made,” Lackman said.

Before the board went into closed session, Chadwick said they had narrowed the list to good, qualified candidates and that the next manager should have experience, training, leadership and integrity.

“Our manager should be able to inspire good morale for our employees. It should be someone who has vision and can see what we see,” Chadwick said.

Mayor Kia Anthony said after the meeting that Jones will be a good fit for the town.

“She’s a very qualified person and manager,’’ Anthony said. “She had both the qualifications and the experience.”

“She was unanimously recommended by town employees who were part of the interview process and the majority of the board. Even though she might not have been a good fit for Kenly, she is a good fit for Spring Lake.”

The Kenly Town Council voted 3-2 to terminate Jones in August.

Her termination came 90 days into her contract after the entire police department, including four full-time police officers and the police chief who had served in the town for over 20 years, turned in their resignations citing a hostile work environment. Joining the mass departures were the assistant town manager and a town clerk. Kenly is in Johnston and Wilson counties and has around 1,500 residents. Spring Lake has almost 12,000 residents.

Anthony and town attorney Michael Porter said Kenly hired a third-party private investigator and it was proven that the claims of a hostile work environment were unfounded.

Before her short time in Kenly, Jones had sued her previous employer in Richland County, South Carolina, for gender and racial discrimination after she was fired. Her suit was later dismissed, according to news reports. She spent her time between Richland County and Kenly working for her own consulting company.

Her start date in Spring Lake is Oct. 24 upon approval and acceptance of her contract.

A few people in the audience remarked that residents should have been part of the search.

Resident and former alderwoman Fredricka Sutherland said the process in hiring a town manager should have included a public forum, which the town has done in the past.

“Once they narrowed down to three candidates, we should have had a public forum so that the citizens could be involved in choosing our next town manager,’’ Sutherland said. “I believe in transparency.”

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In other business, several residents of the C-Me mobile home park, located off Odell Road, came out to voice concerns about their imminent displacement by new owners and to ask the board for its help.

One came with a walker, another with an oxygen tank. All came in with despondent looks on their faces.

Kelly Jo Metz moved to the trailer park three years ago when her uncle managed the site.

She addressed the board during the public comment session and gave the board the notice that residents had been provided by Caelin Farms LLC, which stated the park would be closed effective Jan. 31.

“They have only given us four months to move,’’ Metz said. “There are a lot of people who are about to be homeless. People who have been there 30-40 years.”

The notice said residents were given the option to buy their trailer for $1,000, although they would need to move it off the property by the close date in January.

Metz said the trailers pre-date the ordinance that states that trailers older than 1975 cannot be moved.

“We can buy it for $1,000, but we have to move it by January, which none of us can do. Even if we had the money, they can’t be moved,” Metz said.

Theodore Queen, who has lived in the trailer park for four and half years, said he cannot afford to move.

“It costs money to leave,” Queen said.

At least seven residents agreed that it was hard to find a new home while still being required to pay rent at the trailer park.

Thomas Brock, who has lived there for three years, said he is disabled and on a fixed income.

“You can’t just put people on the street, but they want you to continue to pay rent, which doesn’t make it easy when you have to find a place to live and move all of your belongings,” Brock said.

Brock said he and other residents would come to the next meeting to speak during public comments. Everyone except for Metz missed the cut-off time to address the board before the meeting.

The board also announced that the town had signed a fiscal accountability agreement on Sept. 26.

“This is a really great development for our town and where we are right now,’’ Palacios said. “The reason is that this gives us a road map to essentially taking over our finances again.”

He said this is dependent on the town continuing to meet the metrics and the benchmark dates within the agreement.

Anthony said the original agreement had 10 items on it, and the town has now completed seven of them.

“We are now down to three. And those three are simply hiring positions and completing some policies so we have really knocked out so much that was required,” Anthony said.

She thanked town employees for their efforts and the progress made toward completing the items in the agreement, calling it a win for the town.

The next regularly scheduled meeting will be Oct. 24 at 6 p.m. in the Grady Howard conference room of Town Hall.

Jami McLaughlin covers Spring Lake for CityView. She can be reached at jmclaughlin@cityviewnc.com.

Spring Lake, Board of Aldermen, town manager, Justine Jones