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Mansfield mayor collects for lost wages in aftermath of tornado

MANSFIELD — The city of Mansfield has disbursed $2,700 to Mayor Estona Middlebrooks as part of insurance claims filed by the town for tornado damages last spring.

Middlebrooks filed the claim for compensation for lost wages after she said she missed 10 days of work as a flight attendant for Atlantic Southeast Airlines in the aftermath of the tornado.

Power lines and city facilities were damaged by an EF-2 tornado that ripped through the town on the afternoon of April 19. The city’s insurance company, Gallagher Bassett Services Inc., presented a breakdown of claims paid to the city in an email dated Jan. 20 of this year. Claims, which totaled more than $44,000, were filed for damages to the City Hall roof, replacement of power poles and transformers, clearing of storm debris and purchase of electrical supplies and equipment. Claims were also paid to cover assistance from the city of Monroe at $13,125 and from the city of Covington at $4,098. Mansfield employee overtime was covered in the amount of $2,089.

The claim apparently was not disbursed to Middlebrooks until February after some council members exchanged emails about how taxes should be handled on the payout.

“It’s my understanding that the council knew nothing about the claim at the time it was filed,” said Councilman Jeff Riley, who took office in January and who also serves as mayor pro-tem.

Riley said he views serving as an elected official as a volunteer opportunity.

“I didn’t take the job of city councilman because I wanted to make money,” he said. “In a small town like this, that’s not the reason you take the job of mayor or city council. You take it because you want to help the town in some way.”

Riley said council members are paid $600 per year; he said he has donated his compensation to the city for the purpose of developing a park. The mayor is paid $100 per council meeting or work session over which she presides, for a maximum of two meetings per month.

An unsigned document obtained by the Citizen on Mansfield letterhead outlines a breakdown of the mayor’s “lost wages during the tornado.” The breakdown lists a three-day flight from Wednesday, April 24, 2013 to Friday, April 26 totaling $710.07 in lost wages; a three-day flight from Monday, April 29, 2013 to Wednesday, May 1 totaling $847.28 in lost wages; and a four-day flight from Monday, May 6, 2013 to Wednesday, May 9 totaling $1,148.69 in lost wages.

Middlebrooks did not respond to an email from the Citizen seeking answers to questions about the insurance claim.

Middlebrooks has come under scrutiny for paying her husband’s Verizon cell phone bill in the amount of $228 last April with the city’s debit card. The mayor has said that was a mistake and that she has paid back the money to the city.

Mansfield operates under a strong mayor form of government, meaning that the part-time mayor acts as the chief executive officer and has wide administrative powers. Under Mansfield’s charter, the mayor votes only in the case of a council tie and is responsible for the hiring and firing of city employees, with council approval; supervising executive and administrative work of the city and providing for the coordination of administrative activities; and preparing and submitting an annual budget to the council, among other duties.

The city is still working to draft its 2014 budget, which is required by charter to be submitted to the council by the mayor not less than 60 days prior to the beginning of the fiscal year, which started in January. In prior years the budget has been available for citizen review for 30 days prior to adoption.

Mansfield will hold a work session today at 7 p.m. at the Mansfield Community Center. The council’s regular meeting will be held Monday, March 10, at 7 p.m.