Two city leaders in the Fort Worth suburb of Forest Hill resigned Wednesday after an audit committee flagged expenses of $545 each for tickets to see Michelle Obama on her book tour in Dallas last month.
The expense reimbursements from Forest Hill Mayor Lyndia Thomas and Mayor Pro Tem Beckie Duncan Hayes had been approved by the city manager, but a city council-appointed committee saw the expenses and informed the council, said City Attorney Warren Spencer.
The city charter prohibits elected officials from being paid for their work, but expenses for training and public relations are allowable.
“The city council felt the charges did not fit in with either training or public relations,” Spencer said. “But the mayor and the mayor pro tem felt this was public relations.”
City Manager Sheyi Ipaye said Thomas compared the ticket purchases to a public reading program begun months ago by the Forest Hill Public Library.
“I also saw it as a public relations gesture and thought, if it is going to bring some glory to our city, go ahead,” Ipaye said. “I told the mayor yesterday I didn’t think she did anything wrong.”
Thomas and Hayes were asked to explain their reasoning at a meeting scheduled for Wednesday but the two resigned before the meeting could take place. They believe their expenditures were appropriate, but resigned rather than face removal, in order to be in a better position to run again, the two officials wrote in their separate resignation letters.
The letters contained the same language on that point: “If I allow the city council to vote me out, I will not be able to run for 3 years or in the current election,” the letters said. “Therefore, to protect myself, I resign under duress.”
“[The fund] doesn’t specify what we can do and where we can go,” Hayes told reporters after the council accepted their resignations.. “But it’s set aside for us to go and learn and get involved.”
She said she quit before the meeting because she would “not leave my fate in the hands of other individuals. I am a woman of integrity, and the allegations, they have no substance. They are false.”
Hayes did not respond to a call seeking further comment. Thomas could not be reached for comment. Both are retired post office employees, elected to their council jobs for the first time in 2017.
At the same time they announced their resignations, the two women filed to run for reelection in May. In the May 2017 election, Thomas defeated council member Gerald Joubert by one vote in a recounted contest and Hayes narrowly defeated her opponent.
Ipaye said he expects as many as five people to run for mayor. “I know politics was part of this,” he said. “What we have here is a power struggle. If you can get people out, you might be lucky and get it.”
Reporter Mark Lisheron contributed to this report.
Steve Miller can be reached at [email protected].