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Mansfield residents, council debate whether mayor should resign
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Mansfield council members and residents are split on whether Mayor Estona Middlebrooks should resign for her role in questionable spending of city funds, but the mayor said at Monday’s meeting she will not resign.

Residents Vicki Cowan and Ronnie Sandberg presented a list of 40 signatures calling for the mayor’s resignation, and council members Lisa Dunn and Marty Smallwood — who have led the investigation into questionable spending — both said their trust was gone and they felt it would be best for the town if Middlebrooks stepped down.

However, a couple of residents in attendance Monday and two council members supported the mayor at Monday’s council meeting. Councilman Larry Cummins said there are far more than 40 people in town, and Councilwoman Helen Robertson said she thought Monday’s meeting was only increasing the rift, not helping to heal it. Mansfield had 410 residents as of the 2010 Census, and has 203 active registered voters.

After Cowan said residents wanted the mayor to step down, Middlebrooks said, "Thank you; I will not resign," which was met by clapping by some in the room.

Several other residents continued their questioning, including Whitney Denmark, who called the mayor "despicable" for accepting reimbursement for missing time as a flight attendant while helping in the aftermath of the April 20 tornado in Mansfield.

On the other side of the argument, Joyce Knight called the mayor her "hero" for the help Middlebrooks provided when Knight’s house was destroyed by the tornado.

Once again, the meeting was dominated by a rehashing of the issues, and several people expressed disappointment in the rift developing in the community.

Dunn asked Middlebrooks to think about what the residents were saying and asked her  if she decided to stay if she could present a plan about how to build back the trust Dunn and others say they’ve lost. For her part, Dunn said she liked Middlebrooks as a person, friend and neighbor but has lost faith in her as a leader.

Smallwood called for the mayor to step down because, he said, he felt she had kept the council in the dark. He said it was best for the town for Middlebrooks to resign, saying the issue would keep coming up until she did.

There are questions about some expenses Middlebrooks charged to her city-issued debit card, but the main source of public outrage stems from the mayor’s three-months past due utility bill being written off by the city without council approval.

In the aftermath of the tornado, the council discussed possibly reimbursing Middlebrooks for the $2,700 in wages she said she lost from taking off time from her full-time job as a flight attendant. However, they only discussed perhaps covering one month of utilities, and no official decision was made. When asked what to do by the city clerk, Cummins, the mayor pro tem, told the clerk to go ahead and reimburse Middlebrooks for the three months she was past due. Dunn and Smallwood said the mayor never told the council she was behind on her payment.

Dunn later discovered the reimbursement had been made when she was helping city staff convert to a digital financial software system; her discovery prompted the investigation into other expenses.

While Middlebrooks reimbursed the city the $1,046.20 for the utility bill payments, Dunn said Middlebrooks did not pay back the money until instructed to do so by the city attorney.

For her part, Middlebrooks has repeatedly said mistakes have been made, but she is willing to pay back money and work to make sure mistakes are not made going forward.