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VOL. 128 | NO. 246 | Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Bunker Exits With Dig at Election Commission

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Commissioner Wyatt Bunker’s last meeting as a commissioner Monday, Dec. 16, saw Democrats supporting his resolution of “no confidence” in Shelby County Elections Administrator Richard Holden.

New Lakeland Mayor Wyatt Bunker participated in his last Shelby County Commission meeting as a commissioner Monday.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

And Bunker, a Republican, said some local GOP leaders tried to talk him out of the resolution because they thought it would hurt party unity.

It was an unusual end for a commissioner known for his conservative views and a distinct lack of crossover votes from Democratic commissioners when he expressed those views.

Bunker’s resignation after seven years and five months on the commission is effective Jan. 2, following his election earlier this year as mayor of Lakeland.

The no-confidence resolution passed 9-0 toward the end of Monday’s six-hour long commission session.

Bunker cited several critical audits of election problems in Shelby County in 2012, as well as a Chancery Court decision ordering a new school board election that is pending appeal.

Initially, Bunker said he intended to say very little about the resolution and would let it be his final act on the commission, whether or not it passed.

But over the weekend, he said an unnamed local Republican Party leader contacted him and urged him not to pursue it because it would make the party look divided going into the 2014 county elections.

A five-member, majority Republican election commission hired Holden, who is a former Republican Shelby County Election Commissioner.

“I don’t serve a party. I affiliate with a party – the Republican Party, because their views most closely align with mine at this time,” Bunker said. “I don’t care if they’ve got a ‘R’ beside their name, a ‘D’ beside their name. … I don’t care who it is. I just call it what it is when I see it.”

Commissioner Steve Basar, a Republican, said he initially had some concerns about party unity.

“My first reaction … was what purpose does it serve,” he said.

But Basar said the election reform citizens panel he headed made recommendations for reforms a year ago that the election commission hasn’t acknowledged.

“I think we need to act here,” Basar said. “Sometimes you’ve got to make the unpopular decisions.”

The resolution has no direct effect on Holden’s tenure. Two previous attempts by the Democratic minority on the election commission to remove Holden have been defeated in 2-3 party-line votes.

Bunker said he also talked with two of the three Republican election commissioners, who, he said, also expressed concern about the resolution damaging the local party.

“I’m not damaging the party by bringing this,” he said. “I’ll tell you who is damaging the party – the election commission by failing to hold accountable the person responsible.”

“How many potential problems could you have?” Bunker added. “It’s not the same problems over and over. … Do we give a chance for every single problem? Or do we try to get someone in there who is competent? … We have roughly a million people in this county, and the one guy that we feel like can run this show, can’t run it.”

The county commission set its Jan. 13 meeting as the date it will fill the vacancy created by Bunker’s resignation.

The county commission is taking applications for the position representing District 4, which covers portions of all six suburban towns and cities and the bulk of the county’s unincorporated territory outside Memphis.

Commissioners are scheduled to interview the applicants during Jan. 8 committee sessions. The appointee will serve the remaining nine months in Bunker’s term of office.

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