Community holds prayer vigil for mayor, city after alleged racial comments

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Dozens came together Wednesday night in the Jackson County town of Hoschton at a prayer vigil after controversial comments by the city’s mayor and one of the council members.

The vigil participants are calling on Mayor Theresa Kenerly and Council member Jim Cleveland to resign after racially insensitive remarks.

People from Hoschton area churches came together at a vigil at the historic train depot in Hoschton to seek spiritual guidance for their community and two city leader.

Pastor Steve Carroll, with the Way, a non-denominational teaching church in nearby Braselton was one of the organizers.

“Lift up prayers to God to heal the city to unify and bring together the populace of Hoschton,” said Carroll.

Mayor Theresa Kenerly is being criticized for comments attributed to her that the community isn't ready to have an African American city administrator, after reports she withdrew the application of a black finalist for city administrator.

City council member Jim Cleveland publicly came to her defense, adding to the controversy with comments about Christianity and interracial marriage.

“Did you say I’m a Christian and I don’t believe in interracial marriage?” FOX 5’s George Franco asked.

“Yep,” said Council Member Cleveland.

“How is that misquoted?” Franco asked.

“Because of the way they misquoted it because I said what I said started when I was a kid growing up,” Cleveland said.

He said he’s ‘a lot more tolerant’ than how he is being characterized.

Cleveland also apologized.

“I’m sorry for anybody I’ve offended. I am not what the people around here think I am,” said Cleveland.

At the vigil, many were praying for the town of Hoschton NOT to be seen as racist after national coverage of the actions of Kenerly and Cleveland.

Pastor Dave Glander, also with The Way Church is among many calling on Kenerly and Cleveland to resign.

“Because Christ’s name was invoked by Cleveland, absolutely. I was willing to give Theresa the benefit of the doubt. But with the way she’s handled herself I am calling on her to step down as well,” said Glander.

While there was prayer at the vigil for Kennerly and Cleveland to do the right thing and step down, council member Cleveland was searching for answers too.

Franco: “Gonna stay in the office?”

Cleveland: “We’re praying about it.”

FOX 5 News reached out to Kenerly but did not get a response.

Phyllis Blake, President of the NAACP Georgia State Conference sent FOX 5 News this statement.

“Mayor Hoschton alleged language smacks of the old Georgia where for centuries, people of African descent were refused access to opportunities of which they were qualified and sometimes overqualified, due to a legalized system of White Supremacy. This way of thinking and language has no place in the 21st Century. We’ve seen this type of mythology destroyed by President Barack Obama who served as leader in chief of a majority white nation, its utter insanity to somehow assume a highly qualified African American candidate would somehow not be able to serve as administrator of a small Georgia city. Someone needs to remind the Mayor ‘it’s 2019, not 1919.’”