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Posted: April 15, 2014 10:00 p.m.

Mansfield settles wrongful termination

Former longtime Mansfield city clerk Pat Mullins accepted a $14,000 settlement from the city stemming from her claim of wrongful termination after she was fired in 2012.

The Mansfield City Council officially approved the settlement at Monday’s meeting, which also called for the city to pay $1,500 for Mullins’ attorney fees.

Mullins was fired Aug. 25, 2012 by former mayor Estona Middlebrooks, who resigned earlier this year. Officials said Mullins filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission but never filed a formal lawsuit, though she did hire a lawyer, Tony Sandberg.

Interim Mayor Jeff Riley said after Monday’s meeting that he, Mullins and Mullins’ daughter negotiated a settlement without the attorneys during the past few weeks, finally agreeing on the $14,000 sum plus attorney’s fees.

Councilman Matt Clark said after Monday’s meeting that Mullins never specifically made a claim of age discrimination in the documents he saw but age discrimination was alluded to as part of the wrongful dismissal claim. Mullins served as city clerk for 37 years.

Clark said he and other council members felt the city could have been liable for damages of much more than $14,000 if it was found the city didn’t follow the proper protocol in terminating an employee.

Riley said the city clerk is a constitutional officer, and it’s the city council’s responsibility to hire and fire the clerk; however, he said Middlebrooks fired the clerk on her own authority.

“The liability was huge and getting to settle this was a big deal,” Riley said. “I’m grateful to get it settled. (Mullins) and her daughter were wonderful. Everything was very positive.”

Riley said Mullins was well known, liked and trusted.

“What a great ambassador she could be for the city of Mansfield,” Riley said Monday. “I felt it was for the good of the city government and for the good of the people and Ms. Pat that we get this resolved. And I felt like Ms. Pat was very, very fair in the amount (for which she settled).”

The agreement states that Mullins fully releases the city and city officials from any and all claims relating to her employment. Riley said the agreement was written by Mansfield’s attorney, Lee Carmon.

Riley said the settlement clears up another lingering issue from the past.

“We don’t want to be in the business of lawsuits. I want those behind us,” Riley said. The city also recently settled a lawsuit over a power line Georgia Transmission Corporation was placing through Mansfield. “I think Mansfield is in a great position, and we have a clean slate to work with, with Baxter (International) only being six miles away.”

Even though Middlebrooks resigned following months of accusations about financial mismanagement, some residents still want the city to pursue an in-depth investigation into her past spending. Riley said the City Council could decide to revisit those issues at some point, but he said the more pressing issues are to clean up the city’s management and get a better handle on finances.

Riley said the city is still not getting monthly financial statements, an issue that has been ongoing for more than a year after the city began converting from a paper financial bookkeeping and billing system to a computer software system.

The city is currently accepting resumes for a city treasurer/accountant to get the books in order.

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