After two rounds of voting, Mark Billingsley was elected Monday afternoon to replace on an interim basis former Shelby County Commissioner Wyatt Bunker, who is now the mayor of Lakeland.
He will fill the District 4, Position 2 seat on an interim basis until August. He was sworn in after the vote.
Billingsley didn't receive the majority of votes by commissioners in the first round of voting, but by the second round he did.
After a brief recess he was quickly sworn in and made his first vote as interim commissioner. While he does want to run for the full-term commission seat, he says for now he wants to focus on getting work done in the next few months.
One of Billingsley's focuses including the upcoming budget battle.
"Coming from the nonprofit sector, I think I have a real appreciation for stretching a dollar," he said. "I know how to do that; I'll do my best here while keeping the people's needs in mind."
The closest competitors were former school board member and realtor Dian George and mortgage banker George Chism.
Another heavily debated topic Monday was turning the Mid-South fairgrounds into a tourism development zone from the city of Memphis. The county commission says this would "hijack" funding from the schools fund.
The process to replace former Shelby County Commissioner Wyatt Bunker, Lakeland's new mayor, drew an impressive roster of candidates to interview for the interim post, which expires in August.
A final decision by the commission will be made in mid-January. Some of the candidates used the occasion as a warm-up for campaigns they plan to wage for their own commission seat later this year.
More than a dozen candidates stood ready and hoping they'd be the answer to a political "cattle call," electing blank to serve as interim county commissioner for District Four, Position Two.
At stake was the opportunity, if you look at public service in that vain, to temporarily serve out the remaining eight-month term of resigned Commissioner Bunker, who won election as Lakeland mayor in a September 2013 election.
The rules of procedure were simple enough. Each candidate was given up to five minutes for their intro, then each commissioner, if they saw fit to, asked two questions of the candidate. The candidate then was limited to a one minute reply to each query.
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Simple in theory, yet not surprisingly hard to adhere considering the legendary long-windedness of some commissioners.
"Do you have any problem with the idea that we will be funding schools for Black kids that are going to school with White kids?," asked Commissioner Chairman James Harvey.
"District Four is rich with African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Muslims, Christians, Black and White," said Mark Billingsley, candidate. "I have no issue with color."
Billingsley, a former Germantown alderman, appeared to fit the bill for the post, in the minds of some commissioners, especially when he said he wasn't interested in running for the position on a permanent basis. A similarly honest declaration from former legacy Shelby County Schools board member, Republican Dian George, drew unexpected praise from the other side of the political aisle.
"I've listened to you very carefully and unlike some of the others, you have proclaimed your beliefs and your position, and you have not been trying to impress us based on what you think we want to hear," said Commissioner Walter Bailey.
"I know this is a job and I know what the requirements are being on the school board, it would take to fulfill this job," George said. "Therefore, I have decided not to run this time. There will be a day where I will run."
Others weren't so coy about their future plans. Both Collierville banker George Chism and Memphis firefighter D.J. Daugherty, admitted they'll be candidates for the commission this year, whether chosen as an interim or not.
But, neophyte candidate Robert Escue might be having second thoughts about pursuing any political aspirations when asked by Commissioner Henri Brooks if he would drop his membership in the "Sons of the Confederacy" historic organization if picked as a commissioner. A flustered Escue tried to set the record straight for Brooks' enlightenment.
"There's no race prejudice," Escue said. "It's just gender prejudice. I mean ... because it's "Sons."
The whole process is going to have to be repeated soon in order to find an interim replacement for outgoing Commissioner Chris Thomas, who is the new Lakeland city manager.
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