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Commissioners clash over possible conflict of interest

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    Friday, October 4 2013 3:43 PM EDT2013-10-04 19:43:45 GMT
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DOWNTOWN MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

He's the only elected official in Shelby County now wearing two hats, but while newly-elected Lakeland Mayor Wyatt Bunker says he can handle that post and his position as a Shelby County commissioner, his Democratic colleagues beg to differ.

They're convinced Mayor Bunker's staying on the commission for almost three more months, which would be a conflict of interest.

If it were wrestling it could be labeled a "winner leave town match." If it were a game show it could be "who is the obstructionist." But, since it involves the county commission, another burgeoning conflict is just par for the course.

MORE: Bunker sworn in as Lakeland mayor
MORE: Commissioner Bunker elected as Lakeland's new mayor

When he was sworn in as the new mayor of Lakeland Oct. 3, Bunker turned the page to begin a new chapter in his political career. But, the ink hasn't quite dried on the Republican conservative's last chapter in the "Life of Wyatt," since he intends to stay on for 83 more days as a member of the rambunctious county commission.

But, some of his Democratic colleagues apparently feel the need to pull the welcome home mat out from under him. Immediately.

"We call those my opponents," said Mayor Bunker. "There's several that want me out and it stems really for the most part from the municipal lawsuit."

The "Oust Bunker" movement began this week when Commissioner Walter Bailey asked for a legal opinion from county attorney Kelley Rayne to a perceived conflict of interest concerning future issues Bunker could be voting on, including the possible dismissal of the nearly three-year-old city and county school merger lawsuit.

"His interests and his views have not been consistent with the majority views of the commission and consequently, if he stays on, issues come up, it seems to me a conflict," Commissioner Bailey said.

"There's these few commissioners up there who still want to play obstructionists and we've just got to get past that," Mayor Bunker said. "We really do. So, whether we have a lawsuit in place or not, the right thing is going to happen. That's going to involve the school system, the unified school system, and the municipalities. That's not going to involve the commission."

In 12 days federal court Judge Samuel "Hardy" Mays, Jr., is expecting an answer from all parties in the lawsuit as to whether they have or can reach a settlement thereby avoiding, what by all accounts, would be a protracted and expensive trial.

Although, the county charter allows Mayor Bunker to stay on for 90 days after his Lakeland swearing-in ceremony, the commission is already taking applications for candidates ready to finish out Bunker's commission term. Commissioner Bailey feels Bunker should fall on the sword and resign.

Mayor Bunker wants to hold on to his sword and wield it to the end.

"He ought not even to get the county attorney to render an opinion," Bailey said. "Seems to me that's a decision he ought to call himself and feel obliged not to try to wear two hats.

"I plan to vote, cast my vote on whether we continue or dismiss," Mayor Bunker said. "I'll be voting to dismiss the lawsuit."

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