Update #3: Von Jennings resigned from the City of Alexandria. The Mayor’s Office released the following statement:
Update #2: The Office of Alexandria Mayor Jeff Hall released the following statement late on Monday night: “We are aware of the incident, and it is under investigation as an employee matter.”
Update: Instead of apologizing for her defamatory remarks, Von Jennings responded online with the following statement: “This is not the manner in which I address the public whether their sentiments are fair or not. Unfortunately, there are people willing to make fake pages and share fake news to promote agendas. I will report all of this to Facebook and ask that my page be reviewed and secured.”
However, this report is not “fake news,” and Jennings’ original comment was not posted by a “fake page;” it was posted by her personal account. She had deleted the comment more than 24 hours before issuing a statement claiming that she “will report all of this to Facebook” (emphasis added).
Ten years ago, when she worked for the previous administration, members of the Personnel and Interview Committee included the following in their letter to Mayor Jacques Roy, recommending her termination:
Late last night, Von Jennings, the City of Alexandria’s newly-minted Director of Community Services, lashed out against a white woman who posted a negative review on Facebook of the Alexandria Red River Festival, smearing her as a “racist piece of shit.” The festival, which was held for the first time this weekend, had already generated significant regional controversy, and Jennings’ comment is likely only to intensify criticism.
Within two hours, a screen capture of Jennings’ comment had been shared more than two dozen times, with several calling for Jennings’ termination and others declaring their intention to pull support from future events.
The woman, Morgan Aucoin, is an Alexandria resident who currently works for Embers, a locally-owned restaurant located in the heart of the city’s downtown. Her criticism contained no mention of race whatsoever, though it included a meme that mocked Jennings, an African American woman, for falsely claiming that previous festivals only included “one genre” of music.
“Someone hasn’t been to the Indie Village,” read the caption underneath a photograph of Jennings being interviewed by KALB’s Mark Hamblin. The Indie Village was a component of the award-winning Alex River Fête, the annual festival that Jennings and newly-elected Alexandria Mayor Jeff Hall decided to rebrand and relaunch as the clumsily-named “Alexandria Red River Festival.”
In 2010, Jennings ran unsuccessfully for Alexandria mayor. Her campaign was supported by Greg Aymond, a local attorney and former member of the Ku Klux Klan who published one of the region’s most well-known political blogs. Aymond, who died in 2012, espoused unrepentant racist beliefs on his blog and, among other things, represented the leader of a white nationalist organization in the aftermath of the Jena Six protests.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that from January 2007 to August 2011, I served as the Special Assistant to former Alexandria Mayor Jacques Roy. Prior to that, I served on Roy’s transition team, and in that capacity, I personally lobbied for the new mayor to hire Von Jennings, who had been highly recommended by my late grandmother for her work with the Rapides Parish Police Jury. She served as Alexandria’s Director of Workforce Development until January 2009, when she was terminated, at the recommendation of the Personnel and Interview Committee, for “insubordination,” “failure to perform duties of her job description in a thorough and professional manner,” and “excessive absences,” according to public records.
Jennings spearheaded the launch of the rebranded festival. Almost immediately, the seemingly capricious decision to change the festival’s name was met with widespread ridicule. The city and its sponsors had already spent a significant amount of money marketing and promoting the Alex River Fête brand, tying it in with its other award-winning festival, Alex Winter Fête.
Among other things, River Fête had a customized smart phone app and a line of merchandise, and organizers maintained an active and engaging presence on social media. After the name change was announced, the Facebook page calling itself the “Alex River Fête Memorial Page” attracted nearly 400 likes. Until recently, that was an audience three times as large as the page for the actual event, which had remained dormant for nearly three months and had only been updated with information on the musical line-up and itinerary two and a half weeks ago.
In previous years, the event attracted thousands of visitors, dozens of vendors, and a string of nationally-acclaimed and diverse musical acts. There had been no calls for the event to be rebranded, and during last year’s campaign for mayor, all three candidates had expressed support and praise for the festival.
After being asked whether the new festival was good, Aucoin wrote, “(It) was poor. Probably about 100 people downtown at one time, one street of venders. It was disheartening. For the past 5 years, I’ve watched people put blood, sweat, and tears (and) countless unpaid hours to bring Cenla together for a magical weekend, but this weekend, the lack of effort and everything else showed. I was home by 10 from work, when in years past it has been as late as 2am. You would not have recognized this ‘Festival’.”
Her comments were echoed by several others, who also observed a significant drop in attendance compared to previous years and a noticeable lack of organization.