UPDATE: New pressure on Hoschton officials to resign; vigil planned today

Hoschton Mayor Theresa Kenerly and City Councilman Jim Cleveland face calls to resign. About 75 people attended a City Council meeting to protest comments the two made about a black applicant for a city job. Shantwon Astin vowed to vote the mayor and councilman out of office. Hoschton resident Mary Morrison attended to meeting to voice her concerns. "I don't want people to think that about our community," said Kelly Winebarger, who protested with her sons, Ryder and Knox.

UPDATE: On Wednesday, Hoschton City Councilman Jim Cleveland told the AJC he is considering resigning. A vigil has been scheduled for 8:25 p.m. at the Hoschton Train Depot.

Calls for the resignation of Hoschton’s mayor and a member of the city council grew louder Tuesday as local faith leaders organized a prayer vigil for Wednesday and residents attempted to distance their small city’s reputation from the racially charged comments of two of its elected officials.

“This thing could deteriorate property values, but it could go so much further. It could destroy our entire community, but it’s just not who were are,” said Dave Glander, a Hoschton resident and co-pastor The Way Church in nearby Braselton.

The upheaval in the city of fewer than 2,000 residents just across the Gwinnett line in Jackson County came after an Atlanta Journal-Constitution story revealed allegations Mayor Theresa Kenerly withheld the resume of a candidate for city administrator because he is black. Kenerly reportedly told at least two council members the predominately white city "isn't ready for this."

Councilman Jim Cleveland made matters worse in defending the mayor’s alleged statement when he told the AJC that he did not support interracial marriage because of his Christian beliefs and that seeing the races together on television made his “blood boil.”

Hoschton took down its website Tuesday as the controversy spread across the nation. Councilwoman Susan Powers, who has publicly criticized both Cleveland and Kenerly for their comments, said staff were getting “slammed” by calls.

Kenerly issued a statement denying she made prejudiced comments, but Cleveland has repeated his comments. Neither official responded to a request for comment for this story.

Hoschton Councilman Jim Cleveland is escorted to his car by a Jackson County Sheriffs Officer following a city council meeting where members of the community urged for his resignation at the Hoschton Historic Train Depot in Hoschton, Monday, May 6, 2019. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

icon to expand image

City officials cut short a scheduled meeting Monday in the face of dozens of angry residents. A video surfaced on Twitter Tuesday showing Cleveland walking to his truck followed by a handful of people, including Ron Johnson, a former chairman of the Jackson County Republican Party.

In the video, Cleveland, who has served on the council for a decade, is defiant.

“You go right ahead and you do your recall election,” he said. “That’s the only way you are going to get me out.”

In response, Johnson jabbed a finger at Cleveland and accused him of threatening Councilwoman Powers.

“I heard what you said to her,” Johnson said.

“I told her she’ll be gone before I will,” Cleveland said.

An unidentified woman from behind the camera attempted to show Cleveland a picture of her daughter and son in law, who are an interracial couple.

“I don’t believe in that. I don’t disrespect it. I promise you I don’t,” Cleveland said. “I’m not racist, but I do not believe in interracial marriage. And that’s the end of that story.”

Cleveland told the AJC's Bill Torpy he believed the races should be kept "pure."

Johnson told the AJC Wednesday he believed he had to do something to confront Cleveland.

“I was blown away by what the mayor did and even more so by what (Cleveland) did,” Johnson said. “When the meeting is over, I saw him walk over to Susan … He leaned over to Susan and said you’ll be gone before I’m gone. It was like a threat.”

Johnson said he is organizing a recall petition to force Cleveland from office. “I think they both should resign,” he said.

The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus Tuesday joined the chorus calling for resignations.

“The resurgence in white supremacy in recent years plagues our country and hits home right here in Georgia,” State Rep. Karen Bennett, D-Stone Mountain, said. “This act clearly violates anti-discrimination laws and the mayor of Hoschton should be held accountable.

A sign demanding the resignation of Hoschton Mayor Theresa Kenerly and City Council Member Jim Cleveland sits near the city hall building in Hoschton, Monday, May 6, 2019. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

icon to expand image

Pastor Glander, who is friends with some of the city staff, said some of them felt threatened by the calls inundating City Hall Tuesday.

“That needs to stop. People need to know they are hurting right now,” he said of the small city staff. “They are as shocked as anyone” by the comments of the elected officials, he said.

Glander is helping organize a candlelight prayer vigil Wednesday evening in downtown Hoschton. It’s a way to show the city’s true spirit, he said.

“Let’s just lift this thing up to God and let people know what true Christianity is about,” he said.

While he is glad the mayor’s alleged comments were exposed, Glander said he does not believe Kenerly’s comments represent the people of Hoschton.

“If Theresa and Jim truly love the community the way they say they do, (they should) step down,” he said.