WINONA — Winona Mayor DeDe Stroud stood in front of a crowded room to clear her name one last time Thursday evening before a formal vote of the city council to accept her resignation.
The mayor — elected in May — turned in a simple letter of resignation on Monday. The two-sentence letter said only that her resignation was effective immediately and it served as her exit interview.
Since her resignation, she spoke out against the city and its council, which has been plagued with a laundry list of issues, including previously unpaid bills, possible missing funds, an out-of-compliance wastewater plant, leaks in its gas delivery system and public animosity toward its police department.
In her final address, Mayor Stroud said city officials were against her from the beginning, citing a refusal to allow her to move into the large office in city hall.
“Every day, over the past two months, I have been asking for everyone’s help,” she said. “You all have refused to do anything to help me. You wanted me out of the way, so you all could be in complete charge. I had no other option except to resign because you knew that I couldn’t get anything done anyway. There is nothing but corruption in this town and refuse to let you bully me any further.”
Mayor Stroud said the city secretary could not find information she requested or made her find the records herself, and she defended her qualifications to become the mayor because of her experience running a restaurant in the city.
Seven residents, including Mayor Stroud’s daughter Merissa Childress, spoke on her behalf during the public comments portion of the meeting, before the discussion and vote on her resignation. council members could not, according to the Texas Open Meetings Act, respond to public comments.
“It has become a concern of my own, and many other citizens that the council has not been adequately fulfilling all of their roles that they were elected to do by the citizens of this town …” Ms. Childress said. “While it is not my place to tell you your job description, I can tell you … you were elected in the hope that you held the best interests of the city and its citizens. We are fed up and have reason to think otherwise.”
Ms. Childress said she believes the city is in poor financial shape.
“We would like to know exactly how you all can sit there, calm, cool and collected knowing the shape this city is in — financially and physically speaking,” she said. “What do you all know that we do not.”.
Bryan Richards, city administrator and chief of police, addressed the allegation of corruption from community members after the meeting.
“I’ve been in law enforcement for 17 years, and I assure you I haven’t gotten this far in my career by being corrupt …” he said, adding the office is working to be as transparent as possible with its records. “There is no corruption with me or my staff. We have in-car video. We now have body (microphones on the officers). We are open as we can be.”
Richards said the city is not in danger of folding.
“We had a city council meeting two weeks ago, and our auditor came in and did our yearly audit,” he said. “Winona isn’t broke. We don’t have a lot of money, but we pay our bills on time now. Unfortunately months ago, the bills were not getting paid, and the job wasn’t getting done. That is why I’m sitting here now.”
Council members accepted the mayor’s resignation, with three voting in favor of accepting the letter and one voting against. Following the vote, the council unanimously voted to remove the former mayor from check-singing privileges, TexPool accounts, email accounts and QuickBooks.
The members voted to allow Alderwoman Donna Royal check-signing privileges and Mayor Pro-tem Earl Brown access to the TexPool accounts.
Richards said it would be up to the council on whether it would hold an election to replace the mayor position. He said the city consulted with its attorney, who advised them the city could run without a mayor until the next election cycle.