VOL. 128 | NO. 248 | Friday, December 20, 2013
Commission to Have New Faces in 2014
By Bill Dries
When Shelby County Commissioners said farewell to one of their own this week at the commission’s last meeting of 2013, it was the latest in a series of changes that will remake the 13-member body by this time next year.
The Shelby County Commission will have at least seven new members once the 2014 elections for the 13 commission seats are decided next year.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
Wyatt Bunker was among six commissioners who were serving the last of two consecutive terms – the county government’s term limits under the Shelby County charter.
He resigned effective Jan. 2, following his election earlier this year as mayor of Lakeland. And one of his first acts was to hire fellow Commissioner Chris Thomas as Lakeland’s city manager.
Thomas has said he will serve the nine months left on his current term of office, but will not run for re-election.
That makes, at a minimum, seven new faces on the commission in the 2014 elections, a new majority on the 13-member body.
Those leaving because of term limits are Democrats James Harvey, Henri Brooks, Sidney Chism and Steve Mulroy, and Republican Mike Ritz.
That leaves three Republican and three Democratic incumbents who could seek re-election.
As of Thursday, Dec. 18, Republican Steve Basar, elected in a 2012 special election, was the only one of the six incumbents to pull a qualifying petition to run in 2014.
The other incumbents are Republicans Heidi Shafer and Terry Roland, and Democrats Walter Bailey, Melvin Burgess and Justin Ford.
Some candidates for the seats are telling voters there are no commission incumbents in the 2014 elections.
With a new set of 13 single-member districts replacing the current structure of one single-member district and four districts with three commissioners each, even the incumbents who win re-election will be governing smaller districts.
The new district lines were drawn by the existing commission in a protracted dispute that ultimately had to be decided with a 2012 Chancery Court ruling that threatened to undo the county charter provision that made a commission decision impossible but which most commissioners agreed should be preserved and even defended.
It is the requirement that any plan would have to have a nine-vote, two-thirds majority.
Tennessee law only requires a simple majority for a redistricting plan. But Shelby County government has a home rule charter that requires two-thirds.
The commission made sure all six incumbents who weren’t term-limited had districts all to themselves, with no two incumbents in the same district.
Basar, the seventh incumbent not affected by term limits, took office after Chancellor Arnold Goldin ruled in the redistricting dispute.
Basar was not only the first incumbent commissioner to pick up a qualifying petition; he opened his campaign with a fundraiser in October.
As the possibility emerged that Thomas could take the Lakeland job, Shelby County Schools board member David Reaves pulled a petition in the Republican primary for commission District 3, the district in which Thomas would have run. So far, Reaves is the only potential candidate in the race.
The last of the fundraising Christmas parties on the general campaign front are now done, after being delayed by a little ice several weeks ago.
This is the lull between the first moves in the 2014 county election campaigns and the post-New Year’s rush to make decisions, get signatures on qualifying petitions, file them or put the papers in a drawer, and start looking for voters.
Feb. 20 is the deadline to file for the commission races, with the primary elections on May 6 and the winners advancing to the Aug. 7 election.
But the counter at the Shelby County Election Commission could get crowded. Jan. 3 is when candidates for federal and state offices as well as nonpartisan judicial offices can begin pulling qualifying petitions for the August ballot.