Bunker vacancy creates opportunity for black school board member

Some Shelby County leaders are trying to shake up the all-white Shelby County School Board.  It may be the first major controversy for the new Shelby County Commission.  One of its newest members, Wyatt Bunker, is quitting his School Board job halfway through his four-year term and some Commissioners are poised to replace him with a minority.

"When you look at Shelby County School's population, it's over 30% African-American," says Commissioner Deidre Malone.  "I think having that type of voice on that body would make a difference."

Malone says it's a real opportunity, but she knows it won't come without a fight, possibly from Bunker himself.

"I've heard through the grapevine that they're possibly going to push for that.  That's unfortunate," says Bunker.  "I would hope that they would push for the most qualified candidate.  If the most qualified candidate's a black candidate, that's great.  Fantastic.  Let's put him on there.  But if not, then I hope they wouldn't push for that person."

But - Bunker says - he hopes the Commission appoints someone who is - like him - politically conservative.

Former County Commissioner - and an Action News Five political analyst - Bruce Thompson says the Commission will likely consider all factors, including race, gender and political affiliation.  "But the idea that you would choose someone who looked, walked, talked exactly like the last person who was there... I don't think is valid," he says.

Malone says the pool of candidates could include anyone living in Bunker's old school district.  "If we're going to continue the status quo than this commission will appoint a white conservative.  If this Commission is concerned about diversity then we'll take a serious look at appointing an African-American or a minority to the Shelby County School Board."

With eight new Commissioners, it's hard to be sure how they will vote.  They are, however, now majority Democrat.

Bunker says he will leave his school board post in 90 days or as soon as the Commission replaces him.  Some of the names that have popped up as replacement candidates:  Methodist Health Care Executive Cato Johnson and former Shelby County Schools Superintendent Fred Johnson.

Another school board member, Ron Lollar is running for the state legislature.  If he wins the race for House District 99, he has said he will also resign from the School Board.  That will create yet another appointment opportunity for the Shelby County Commission.