Recall election for Hoschton mayor, councilman set for Jan. 14

Hoschton Mayor Theresa Kenerly sits with her attorney Tony Powell during a hearing before Judge David Sweat at Jackson County Magistrate Court on Wednesday, October 2, 2019. She and Councilman Jim Cleveland will face voters in a recall election Jan. 14. HYOSUB SHIN / HYOSUB.SHIN@AJC.COM

Petitioners submitted 25% more signatures than required.

The mayor of Hoschton and a longtime city councilman will face voters next month after the Jackson County Board of Elections took the rare step of calling for a recall election next month.

Mayor Theresa Kenerly and Councilman Jim Cleveland have faced unending calls to resign their posts since an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation in May revealed 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.”

In attempting to defend the mayor, Cleveland expressed his own beliefs that intermingling of whites and blacks together was not “Christian.”

“I’m a Christian and my Christian beliefs are you don’t do interracial marriage. That’s the way I was brought up and that’s the way I believe,” he said.

Councilman Jim Cleveland reacts during public hearing and regular meeting at Hoschton Train Depot in Hoschton on Thursday, May 30, 2019. He and Mayor Theresa Kenerly will face voters in a recall election Jan. 14. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Hoschton is a predominately white city just across the Gwinnett County line with a population less than 2,000. But it is undergoing dramatic residential growth as a more diverse crop of home buyers look for affordable housing in striking distance of the north metro area.

The revelations about Kenerly and Cleveland were met with outrage by voters, who demanded they resign. When Kenerly and Cleveland refused, residents organized a recall campaign, collecting hundreds of signatures.

The Jackson County Board of Elections Tuesday certified the petitions Tuesday and set Jan. 14 as the date for a recall election.

Former Hoschton City Councilman Scott Butler and resident Kelly Winebarger talk to voter Robert Shuler on Nov. 2, 2019, about the campaign to recall Mayor Theresa Kenerly and Mayor Pro Temp Jim Cleveland. The Jackson County Board of Elections voted Tuesday to certify the petitions and set Jan. 14 as the date for a recall election. CHRIS JOYNER / CJOYNER@AJC.COM

“The board took the issue very seriously. Each name and signature was checked to make sure that each signer was a qualified voter and that each signature matched the voter’s signature on their voter registration form,” Board Chairman Eric Crawford said. “The recall organizers submitted roughly 25% more signatures than were needed for each petition, so there was no concern within the board about the legal requirement being met.”

Kenerly fought the recall all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court, but the justices refused to hear her appeal in an unanimous decision handed down last month. Neither Kenerly or Cleveland attended the election board meeting and they did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

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