Shelby County commission debates hiring independent law firm - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Shelby County commission debates hiring independent law firm

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MEMPHIS, TN -

By Kontji Anthony - bio | email | Facebook

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - A storm unfolded in the Shelby County Commission Wednesday after commissioners proposed hiring an outside law firm to represent the commission in the Memphis and Shelby County school merger debate.

Some commissioners said they want an independent attorney because the county mayor and the majority of the commission are butting heads on school merger talks.

Shelby County Education Committee chairman Walter Bailey surprised his peers with this add-on to Wednesday's agenda: A resolution to hire an independent attorney to represent the commission on school merger matters.

"We need a guiding hand at this point," said Bailey.

"I object to it being added on," said Shelby County Commissioner Wyatt Bunker.

As committee chair, Bailey overruled Commissioner Bunker. He said his resolution was in direct response to the passage of two bills by Tennessee General Assembly committees that could delay the Memphis and Shelby County Schools merger, and lift the ban on special school districts.

Commissioner Terry Roland called it a waste.

"We've got all these attorneys that work for the county," said Roland. "Why do we need extra counsel?"

Commissioner Mike Ritz pointed out the majority of the commission supports the school merger. Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell does not, but they share the same attorneys. Ritz then fired accusations at the city and county superintendents for supporting the state bills.

"I will say publicly that I think both of the superintendents are looking to protect their jobs," said Ritz.

Commissioner Chris Thomas cut in.

"I want us to vote on this issue," said Thomas. "This is not pertinent to what he's talking about."

"Commissioner Ritz, you still have the floor," Bailey said.

As Ritz continued, tempers flared.

"Point of order. Point of order," said Bunker. "He's analyzing the legislation passed in Nashville. It's completely off topic."

Roland then became fed up.

"We're not going to hire a lawyer to circumvent the will of the people," said Roland.

The commission voted 7-3 to hire an independent attorney to represent them on school matters.

Meanwhile, Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy drew up a resolution for the commission to take a position against Thursday's Tennessee House of Representatives vote to delay the proposed Memphis and Shelby County Schools merger and lift the ban on special school districts.

"What it does is express general opposition," said Mulroy.

Bunker argued the item could not be discussed in the Education Committee.

"This is a legislative item and unfortunately, we didn't have legislative committee scheduled today," he said.

Bailey ruled the item would be allowed because it falls under both Education and Legislative Committees. Others had their say.

"The same way you're trying to railroad this deal here is the same thing you're blaming Nashville about," said Roland.

Bunker continued his objections.

"I think it's a violation of our rules," he said.

Bunker then appealed Chairman Bailey's earlier ruling to the discussion to continue, but commissioners voted down his appeal. Bunker then stood up and left the meeting.

Bailey then accused state lawmakers of funneling the bill through the General Rule to circumvent the county commission.

"They know they can't get a two-thirds vote on this body to9 pass it as a local bill," said Bailey. "So they're going to circumvent that process."

The words prompted Bunker to return to the meeting.

"Choked on my sandwich, had to run back in here," said Bunker. "Did you really say Nashville circumvented the process right after you had done it 15 minutes ago? I withdraw my question."

Bunker then pushed his seat back, stood up, threw down his pen and stormed out again.

The commission voted 7-3 in support of the resolution. Their official position is to urge the House to vote "no" Thursday on Bill 51.

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