Shelby County Commissioner Wyatt Bunker thought he was getting off a little levity when he defended his opposition to a resolution calling for funding of the Southeast Shelby County library. But some passionate defenders of the library were not amused, and something rare indeed happened during Monday's consideration of possible budget cuts: boos from the audience.
Bunker's position was that he didn't oppose funding the library, just that he didn't think to do so required a special resolution. Rather than quitting while he was ahead, however, the conservative Republican member hazarded an ill-fated joke to the effect that library lovers might prefer that tax money went to restore threatened cuts in the Sheriff's budget, so as to avoid getting "mugged" at the library.
Not long after that piece of political theater (the resolution passed handily), the grim business of vetting 100 proposed employee layoffs — 31 of those in the selfsame Sheriff's Department — got under way. In the end the commission deferred action on the cuts, but there was more Sturm und Drang on the way to that result.
One of the highlights of the day was the lengthy, impassioned testimony of Sheriff Mark Luttrell against the prospect of losing 31 positions in planned employee layoffs:
The upshot of it all, after Luttrell and numerous other department heads had testified about the adverse effects of the planned layoffs? Commissioners ultimately deferred action, pending further review by the commission's budget committee.
In the meantime, county mayor A C Wharton had promised that, if it was "the will of the body," he would come up with a proposal for a tax increase instead. In the context of the day, that was less an offer than a calling of the commission's bluff.