A divided city council traded accusations of misusing city funds and of violating the Open Meetings Act Tuesday night after allegations surfaced that the mayor and mayor pro tem were reimbursed for $545 tickets to attend Michelle Obama’s book tour in Dallas.
A standing-room only crowd gathered to speak on behalf of Mayor Lyndia Thomas and mayor pro tem Beckie Duncan Hayes but the council voted 4-3 to proceed with hearings to determine if the two elected officials will be removed from office or suspended. The hearings are scheduled for 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Forest Hill City Hall, 3219 California Parkway.
During the meeting that lasted over three hours, Thomas and Hayes said they did nothing wrong. Thomas asked for a three-month extension so that she can have enough time to dispute the charges against her.
Thomas said she received a letter on Jan. 8 listing the allegations against her, and argued that she had less than six weeks to prepare. “I am asking the council to pull the charges against myself and the mayor pro tem because we did not do anything illegally. If you don’t pull the charges, I ask that you you give us a chance to prepare.”
But council member Stephanie Boardingham said the matter was brought to her attention by a group of citizens, and that she, along with council members Gerald Joubert and Carlie Jones, met to sign the paperwork to get the special meeting on the agenda.
Residents also spoke in favor of Thomas and Duncan Hayes and praised them for their accomplishments including bringing bus service to Forest Hill and fixing sidewalks.
Sonya Coleman Norwood said she wants to give people the benefit of the doubt, but she was in the Starbucks parking lot and saw the three council members walk in the door and sit down for a meeting.
She called the mayor to tell her about the council members.
“I didn’t plan on being there (at Starbucks). It was God telling me to be there,” Coleman Norwood said.
Evelyn Williams said she appreciated everything the mayor and mayor pro tem have done for the city.
“Why can’t we just get along,” she said.
Meanwhile, Joubert, Jones and Boardingham said other questionable expenses include the purchase of school supplies, an event sponsored by the Links Foundation and meals at Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen and Texas Roadhouse. They said the events and meals were not related to their duties as elected officials.
Thomas told the Star-Telegram previously that the city has a $10,000 public relations fund to pay for expenses such as attending functions. Thomas also accused Joubert, Boardingham and Jones of violating the Open Meetings Act when the three gathered at a Starbucks on the evening of Jan. 2.
But Boardingham told the audience that the city’s charter allows three council members to sign the necessary paperwork to call a special meeting.
City attorney Warren Spencer told council members that meeting at Starbucks wasn’t necessarily the right thing to do, but that the council members were not in violation of the charter because they met for the purpose of signing the papers to go forward with the hearings.
The council also voted unanimously to temporarily suspend Thomas’s city-issued credit card as there are no policies in place stating that the mayor and council members should have credit cards.