Taxpayers Paid $1,091 For City Officials to See Michelle Obama

Mayor, mayor pro-tem in Forest Hill resign amid spending scandal

The mayor and mayor pro-tem of Forest Hill resigned on Wednesday after it was revealed the city paid more than $1,000 for them to attend an event with former First Lady Michelle Obama.

Mayor Lyndia Thomas and Mayor Pro-Tem Beckie Duncan Hayes quit immediately before fellow council members had scheduled a vote to oust the two.

"They were ripping us off,” said Leslie Jasperson, a longtime citizen of Forest Hill who decided to check up on how city officials spend tax money.

Through open record requests, she uncovered a check for $1091.92.

That's how much the town of 13,000 paid Thomas and Duncan Hayes to buy tickets for a “conversation” with the former first lady in Dallas last month.

To Jasperson, it seemed like a misuse of public money.

Fellow council members agreed and planned a vote to oust the pair.

But immediately before that meeting, they resigned -- even as they defended billing the city for the Obama event.

"We don't get paid a salary. But we do -- we are entitled to be reimbursed for our expenses,” Thomas said.

They claimed going to see a former first lady is a perfectly legitimate city expense. They also said they reimbursed the city the money – not because they did anything wrong but because of “the fuss.”

"We have a public relations fund,” Duncan Hayes said. “In our public relations fund, we can go to -- it doesn't specify what we can do and where we can go. But it's set aside for us to go and learn."

The former mayor said it’s a learning experience.

"When you're out there, you're more or less, building relationships, connecting with people, trying to find out things or whatever,” she said.

Jasperson doesn't buy it.

“It's not PR,” she said. “What are they going to learn from Michelle Obama that they are going to bring back the city? I mean really.”

To add another twist, the mayor and mayor pro tem who just resigned are still running for election in May. If they had been ousted, they wouldn't have been allowed on the ballot.

"I'm expecting to win,” Duncan Hayes said.

And for now, deputy mayor pro tem Clara Faulkner is acting mayor.

“I am astonished,” Faulkner said. "The city is moving forward. We will continue to move forward. We can only go up.”

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