To read more about former mayor Estona Middlebrooks' resignation, read this article.
A handful of days after the resignation of mayor Estona Middlebrooks, the Mansfield City Council tried to get back to business Monday, and the residents who had been vocally critical of the former mayor thanked the council for answering questions and getting business done.
The council did not make any formal statements about the resignation of Middlebrooks, who submitted her resignation last Thursday following months of questions about past spending decisions, but interim Mayor Jeff Riley made it clear the current council would be as open and responsive as possible.
"I’m a citizen of this community, just like y’all. I don’t feel like I have a right to know anything more than y’all know. OK? I believe in total transparency," Riley said, noting that there are limited discussions that would fall under executive session. "Other than that, there (are) no questions here that are out of limits. As far as I’m concerned, you can ask any question you want to ask."
Resident Whitney Denmark, who has been a leading voice in the past few months, told the council Middlebrooks’ resignation was just the first step and she said she won’t stop until the former mayor’s case is prosecuted.
Later in the meeting, Vicki Cowan, another resident who has been requesting a more in-depth investigation into Middlebrooks’ past spending as mayor, asked if the council had decided whether to still pursue an audit and investigation.
Riley said everything had happened so quickly that the council hadn’t had time to discuss its next steps.
Councilman Matt Clark said the city will have an audit, but it wasn’t clear whether the audit differed from the annual audits all governments are required to have.
Middlebrooks said in her resignation letter that she no longer had the time to devote to the position due to business and family obligations.
She did not say anything about the constant questioning she faced since last spring; however, in an email last week, Riley said he and other council members had notified Middlebrooks the prior week they would either pursue an internal investigation into questions of spending or turn the matter over to a Superior Court judge, which Riley said is the process laid out in the city’s charter.
Dating back to last spring, council members and residents have raised questions about spending related to debit-card purchases and improper reimbursements for trips and work Middlebrooks said she missed during the cleanup following the April 2013 tornado.
The majority of attendees at council meetings during the past several months have been demanding answers, but there were residents who supported the mayor as well.
Election for new mayor?
As mayor pro tem, Riley will serve as interim mayor, and he said Monday he was told by county Elections Supervisor Donna Morrison that there was no way to dovetail a special election to fill the mayor’s position with either the May 20 primary or following July runoff.
Therefore, his preliminary take is that an election may not be possible until August.
Since the city has to handle its own elections, cost can be a concern, including hiring poll workers for 21 days of early voting and finding someone to handle the elections supervisor role for the city. The Georgia Senate is considering a bill that’s already been passed by the house that would reduce the number of early voting days from 21 days to six days for some cities.
Unused insurance money
The council discussed an insurance payment made to the city for repairs following the April 2013 tornado that was never used for that purpose and continues to sit in the bank.
The city received $1,099 for repair to city hall, specifically the roof, from its insurance policy through the Georgia Municipal Association, but city employees said the repairs were never made.
"You can’t file a claim or accept money from an insurance company, specially earmarked for some work…you can’t do it. We accept money for repairs and we didn’t (do them)," Council Member Marty Smallwood said.
City Clerk Jamie Ruark said the way the damage was described to her was as very minimal, but she acknowledged she didn’t handle the project.
Riley said he agreed with Smallwood and said the council is doing what it can to make sure situations like the unused insurance money don’t happen again.
One of the other topics discussed Monday was the completion of a final draft of the 2014 budget after months of delays.
Mansfield operates on a calendar budget year, which means the budget would normally be approved prior to January.
Council member Matt Clark presented the final draft of the $1.07 million budget to the council Monday. The budget will be available to the public for 30 days before the council officially votes to approve it for 2014.
The budget can be seen and downloaded at CovNews.com; residents can also view and get copies of the budget at Mansfield City Hall or by emailing Clark at email@example.com.
By far, the city’s largest expense is $570,778 to purchase electricity, plus an additional $50,000 the city is planning to set aside in 2014 to pay for additional electricity costs when the new Plant Vogtle nuclear units – 3 and 4 – come online. Smallwood said the city could have to pay more than $5 million in new costs, though the city has set aside some money previously.
The city is also dealing with $145,000 in needed repairs to the city’s sewer plant.
In a moment of levity, Clark’s mother told the residents and council they could not have picked a better person to handle the budget, "because he is tight, tight, tight. He has to have a reason for everything."