Winfield says he’ll ‘keep schedule’ despite lawsuit

Published 12:10 pm Friday, February 3, 2012

Vicksburg Mayor Paul Winfield, accused in a lawsuit of sexual harassment of his former chief of staff, said this morning that he will continue with business as usual.

“I am the mayor for the City of Vicksburg, and I intend to keep my schedule,” Winfield said from his cell phone, one day after canceling plans for a weekend trip to San Diego for an environmental issues conference.

Winfield, 37, was named Wednesday in a federal lawsuit against the city filed by former chief of staff Kenya Burks, who says she and the mayor had a consensual sexual relationship that she ended and he attempted to continue.

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The mayor, on the day of the filing, denied the accusations, saying, “I did not have any sexual relations with Miss Burks.”

Burks, who lists her address as Vicksburg in the court document and Southlake, Texas, on her Facebook page, has not commented publicly since the filing. In the suit, she asks for damages under federal civil rights and constitutional law.

“For my strategy (in the lawsuit), I’m deferring all questions to the city attorney, Lee Thames,” Winfield said this morning.

Staffers at City Hall said Winfield was not seen in the office Thursday.

He checked in by phone when City Hall opened this morning, city policy director Marie Thompson said.

The city’s two other elected officials, South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman and North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield, both said at City Hall Thursday that they had not read the lawsuit but planned to do so today. The board will discuss the matter in closed session Monday, Thames said.

“I found out about it on the way home from the doctor’s office,” Beauman said. “I really know only what’s already out there about it.”

“It’s hard to tell what is true and what isn’t in things like this,” Mayfield said. “But, I don’t hang with the mayor after-hours.”

Both said they sensed no friction between Winfield and Burks when the two worked on the same floor at City Hall.

Burks was named chief of staff when Winfield took office in July 2009. She held the $72,000-a-year position until it was eliminated on April 18, 2011, in a 2-0 vote by the aldermen. Winfield abstained from the vote.

Burks filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission April 22, 2011, claiming she wasn’t entitled to $9,701.59 in back overtime pay approved for her by the board on April 4. In the suit, she says the payment was an attempt by Winfield to continue their personal relationship. City officials said she was eligible for the money because she did not serve in a supervisory role.

Thames said it is possible he will defend the city in the case, despite the closeness of the legal department to a case where city department heads could be subpoenaed. Whether the city’s own legal department is officially involved could depend on advice concerning insurance from the Mississippi Municipal League, Thames said.

The case is before U.S. District Judge David C. Bramlette. No hearing date has been set.