Hoschton recall moves to next phase after high court declines appeal

The Georgia Supreme Court unanimously turned down an appeal by Hoschton Mayor Theresa Kenerly, paving the way for a recall election of her and longtime Councilman Jim Cleveland.

Kenerly had asked the court to review a lower court decision upholding the grounds for her recall, but the high court declined to hear it. Neither Kenerly nor her attorney returned a call seeking comment.

Action now moves to the Jackson County Board of Elections, which must check and certify the recall petitions and set a special election. But supporters of the recall effort believe the most difficult legal hurdles are behind them and view a recall election early next year as inevitable.

“We’re very excited about how things are going right now,” said Pete Fuller, one of the leaders of the recall effort. “If they had chosen to hear the case it would have added a lengthy period of time in the process.”

Voters in the small northeast metro city mobilized after an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation found Kenerly sidetracked a candidate for a city administrator because of his race. According to interviews and documents reviewed by the AJC, Kenerly told council members she withheld the resume of a candidate because "because he is black, and the city isn't ready for this."

Kenerly has said she does "not recall making the statement attributed to me," but in a court hearing in October she did not counter sworn testimony recounting the statement.

Along with Kenerly, voters have targeted Cleveland for recall after he, while defending the mayor, Cleveland aired his own attitudes about race. In comments to the AJC and other media outlets, Cleveland said he does not support interracial marriage and that seeing blacks and whites together on television “makes my blood boil because that’s just not the way a Christian is supposed to live.”

Residents responded to the controversy with candlelight vigils, dozens of ethics complaints, and finally, with the recall campaign. In addition, two new council members were elected earlier this month by running on a campaign of restoring the community's honor.

“It comes down to values. It comes down to standing up for the town and the community,” Fuller said. “It’s reclaiming our name.”